Convicted conman John Palmer can keep more than £33m from a timeshare fraud because of a legal mistake, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Palmer's challenge to his jail term was dismissed
Britain's most senior judge, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said Palmer, who is serving an eight-year sentence, should have had the money confiscated.
But he ruled that an earlier appeal court decision allowing him to hold onto his profits - although wrong - could not be overturned.
Palmer, who made the money by selling timeshares in Tenerife apartments that often did not exist, was nicknamed "Goldfinger" after being acquitted of handling gold from the 1983 Brinks-Mat robbery.
Following Friday's decision, the Home Office said attempts would be made to reclaim the money by invoking new laws recently passed by Home Secretary David Blunkett.
In July 2002 a £33,243,812 confiscation order made against Palmer was overturned by the appeal court, on the basis that there had been crucial flaws in the procedure followed.
Who said crime doesn't pay? It's never paid so well for Palmer
Victims of Crime Trust
On Friday Lord Woolf ruled that the court had "misunderstood and misapplied" the law and Palmer's case had been "wrongly decided".
Appeal judges last November blocked an attempt by the Director of Public Prosecutions to take the case to the House of Lords - the only court with power
to quash the ruling.
This means they cannot overturn the decision - so Palmer, who is worth a reputed £270m, will keep the money.
Palmer, in his 50s, of Bath, was jailed for eight years at the Old Bailey in May 2001 for conspiracy to defraud, in one of the biggest timeshare frauds ever uncovered.
He took £60,000 from some, the life savings of some old people - he shortened their lives because of the stress they went through
After his acquittal in the Brinks-Mat case, he moved to Tenerife and set up the timeshare business with his lover Christine Ketley, of Essex, who was also convicted of conspiracy to defraud.
Palmer's challenge to his jail term was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November last year.
After Friday's ruling, Norman Brennan, a serving police officer and director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said:
"A lot of vulnerable people, who worked hard all their lives lost their life savings and at the end of the day his sentence, eight years, was not that long anyway.
"Now Palmer is sticking two fingers up to all of us and the courts are allowing him to do it."
Timeshare victim Mr Davidson, a retired engineering firm boss - said the situation was atrocious.
"It undermines us and makes us fools as far as the law is concerned," he said.
Mr Davidson, who lost £4,000 to Palmer, said the money was "chicken feed" compared to some losses.
"He took £60,000 from some, the life savings of some old people - he shortened their lives because of the stress they went through," he said.
Palmer is currently serving time in Belmarsh Prison in south London, and is the richest category A high security inmate in prison history.
There are still more than 200 claims against Palmer going through the court, according to Peter Wylde, a partner with Irwin Mitchell solicitors.
He said: "We are still pursuing Palmer through the civil courts.
"Perhaps perversely, today's court ruling improves the chances of claimants getting compensation from the civil courts because there are now more of Palmer's assets available."