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BBC Scotland's Bob Wyllie
"This will have huge support in communities blighted by drugs"
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Monday, 9 October, 2000, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
New powers to seize drug profits
Drug dealers' assets run into millions
New hard-line laws are planned which will create more powers to seize assets from criminals, a BBC Scotland investigation has established.

The proposals will be unveiled in the Queen's speech in Westminster next month in a bid to crack down on major drug dealers.

The new laws will mean that suspected criminals can have their assets seized - unless they can prove they were obtained legitimately.

At present the law only allows the courts to seize assets from those with a criminal conviction.

Scottish police said they would welcome the introduction of the new law, known as civil forfeiture.

Graeme Pearson
Graeme Pearson welcomed new legislation
Graeme Pearson of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said: "If such new legislation was introduced it would give the authorities, the police service and other agencies the opportunity to attack the wealth of these individuals - the criminal profits which they have siphoned off and create power for them in developing future criminal enterprises.

"It is very important to the well-being of the UK and the Scottish community that we attack the wealth of criminals and remove it before it can be used to support future criminal enterprises."

However, it is expected that the proposals will cause controversy on human rights grounds.

John Scott of the Scottish Human Rights Centre said: "It is potentially a very dangerous area to move into where you say that these will be civil proceedings.

'Difficult position'

"They won't proceed on the basis of a criminal conviction, and in fact there may never be a criminal court case at all.

"We are going to take the money off you and it is up to you to prove that you acquired the money or the property innocently, and that puts it in a very difficult position.

"It is easy to see how, without very stringent safeguards, innocent people could suffer through that."

The government estimates that Britain's illegal drug trade is now worth more than 8.5bn a year.

Heroin package
The legislation will target drug dealers
A BBC investigation this year estimated that Glasgow's heroin trade alone was worth between 60m and 80m a year - more than the annual turnover of Rangers and Celtic put together.

More and more of the country's drug trade is dominated by large criminal organisations - and it is this big business crime that the government aims to target.

There will be a National Confiscation Agency in England and Wales, with a parallel agency in Scotland.

The new laws will also give powers for far greater bank disclosure and will allow the Inland Revenue to pursue criminals for unpaid tax.

Some legal experts say this will be challenged under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Earlier this year a report from the Police Inspectorate said Scottish forces needed to give much greater priority to the confiscation of criminal assets.

It concluded that more national co-ordination was needed and that there was a need for more specialist enforcement officers.

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See also:

14 Jun 00 | Scotland
Call to seize criminal assets
25 Feb 00 | Scotland
Drug chief issues warning
20 Jan 00 | Scotland
More cash for drugs battle
26 Jan 00 | Scotland
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