The Assets Recovery Agency has been criticised after it was revealed it had cost taxpayers around £60m to recover just over £8m from criminals since its 2003 launch.
The agency tries to get tough on criminals through their pockets
The agency was established and given its powers by the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) 2002 to recover criminals' ill-gotten gains - with or without a conviction.
The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) says it is using POCA to put an end to the "champagne lifestyles" enjoyed by many criminals.
As well as setting up the agency, POCA created a specific offence of money laundering and made it unlawful for people working in banks, building societies and bureaux de change not to report suspicious transactions.
The agency also says it aims to take the profit out of crime, and dismantle and disrupt the "organised crime empires" by removing the money that is their motivation.
Another objective is to promote the use of financial investigation as "an integral part of criminal investigation".
POCA applied to England and Wales, but matching measures were introduced in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The agency was modelled on the Irish Republic's Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) which has recovered millions of euros and been partially credited with breaking the power of crime bosses.
The ARA, which is based in the City of London, is staffed by civilians and not police officers. The Financial Investigators or FIs were a new type of enforcers created by the 2002 act.
The agency pursues the cases it receives from police, customs and other agencies through the civil courts.
For the ARA to succeed in a civil court, it has to prove that assets are "more likely than not" the proceeds of crime, while to secure a criminal conviction, the burden of proof is "beyond reasonable doubt".
This had led critics to say authorities now get "two bites at the cherry" as they are able to try again in the civil courts - where there is a lower standard of proof - if a criminal case fails.
But of the cases completed since the POCA, some show gaping holes between the amount an individual benefited from crime and the value of what is taken from them, which could have made a difference to the ARA's figures.
Last year, with 180 workers and a budget of £15.5m, just £4.6m went back into the agency's coffers.
Its chiefs said then their main objective was reducing organised crime, not making a profit and they hoped to break even by the end of their third year of operation.