New weapon against underworld
CRIMEBUSTERS have a new weapon in their armoury today which they believe will be a watershed in the battle against underworld bosses.A change in the law and a shift of emphasis in tactics will allow the authorities to seize criminals assets and hit them where it hurts most said Chris Webb, one of HM Customs top investigative officers.
By Colin Adwent
CRIMEBUSTERS have a new weapon in their armoury today which they believe will be a watershed in the battle against underworld bosses.
A change in the law and a shift of emphasis in tactics will allow the authorities to seize criminals assets and hit them where it hurts most said Chris Webb, one of HM Customs top investigative officers.
Ipswich-based Mr Webb has dozens of officers throughout East Anglia, the midlands, Wales and part of the west country reporting into him in his role of regional co-ordinator for the introduction of the new Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
He believes POCA is a big step forward in tackling major criminals, particularly those in the upper echelons of drug dealing.
Already assets worth millions of pounds have been seized since the inception of the act this month.
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Big names like John 'Goldfinger' Palmer and Kenneth Noye, who have been linked to the 1983 Brinks Mat gold robbery, are the type of criminal who would top the new hit list.
Because of the new initiative, those with lavish lifestyles but who can not prove where their money comes from could have their homes, cars and other assets seized.
"It is a major regional initiative into tackling the proceeds of crime," said Mr Webb today. "It enables us to go for the money which relates to crime, not only at the ports but also inland along with our colleagues in the police.
"Previously only money we seized had to be related to drugs trafficking. Now it is any crime."
Among the powers POCA will give officers are:
n The authority to investigate where they believe money is from the proceeds of crime
n Strengthening procedures for confiscating defendants assets
n Extending existing powers for the seizure of drugs cash and securing forfeiture through the courts
Mr Webb said he was extremely enthusiastic about the act and believes it will free investigators to tackle major criminals without them being able to evade the law. He described it as "a significant step" in curbing the major players of the underworld.
"his is a way we can attack those who we believe do not have a legitimate source of income," said Mr Webb.
Where his teams believe someone is living of the profits of criminal activities a squad of specialist tax inspectors will be unleashed upon them.
Known as the Assets Recovery Agency it is hoped the squad can take at least £60m from known criminals over the next three years.
Dubbed the 'Al Capone' law inspectors will use it to pursue civil cases against top criminals.
Prior to POCA investigators had to prove the source of someone's wealth. Now the onus will be on those with the money to prove where it came from.