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EDITIONS
 Monday, 30 December, 2002, 01:06 GMT
Criminals face wealth crackdown
Police raid
Police will have greater powers to seize assets
New powers allowing police and customs officers to seize criminals' assets come into force on Monday.

The Proceeds of Crime Act will mean money can be confiscated from all types of criminals and not just drug dealers, as previous laws allowed.

By 2004 the government hopes to have doubled the amount of cash seized each year to 60m.

It says the measures will hamper the actions of organised crime gangs and act as a deterrent to future generations of criminals.

Deterrent effect

According to the Home Office 18bn a year is made by criminals - amounting to around 2% of the UK's national income (GDP).

Confiscating funds gained illegaly is an obvious deterrent to criminals, but one which the government believes is not working as effectively as it could be.

Organised crime affects us all - the people whose homes are burgled, those who lose their savings to fraudsters and the victims of drug-addicted muggers

Home Office
It says the only 40% or less of the amounts ordered by the courts to be seized is currently collected.

The new act will enable police and customs officers to search for cash anywhere in the UK and not just at the country's borders as was previously allowed.

Where money suspected to have come from crime amounts to more than 10,000, magistrates can order its seizure.

Even when there is no criminal prosecution a new assets recovery agency can now step in.

It will be able to sue suspected criminals in the civil courts and if that fails they will be pursued with tax demands.

Drug dealers

According to the Home Office there are around 400 major crime bosses in the UK, with a combined fortune of 440m.

It believes that around 220m is in the hands of just 39 individuals - all of which go to enormous lengths to place themselves beyond the reach of the law.

Police forces believe there are at least 370 local crime barons with assets that could be targeted.

But the Home Office says that until now lack of powers have prevented officers from taking forward their investigations.

Victims

By targeting the criminals' assets the government hopes to cut down overall crime.

It says that 1m taken from a drug dealer would prevent him from buying 50 kilograms of heroin at wholesale prices.

The Home Office believes that just 1kg of heroin sold on the streets can lead to 220,000 worth of stolen property, 220 victims of burglary and huge costs for police, drug and HIV workers.

According to the Home Office: "Organised crime affects us all.

"The people whose homes are burgled, those who lose their savings to fraudsters and the victims of drug-addicted muggers."

See also:

25 Jul 02 | UK
25 Jul 02 | UK
26 Feb 02 | Scotland
23 May 02 | N Ireland
18 Oct 01 | Scotland
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