Over a decade ago, an act came into force that made it easier for the state to strip criminals of illegally acquired gains and established an agency to recover them, the Assets Recovery Agency.
Part of a long history of legislation to prevent criminals benefitting financially from their crimes, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 – usually abbreviated to POCA – and its various enforcement bodies have managed to reclaim millions of pounds, much of it the product of money laundering and fraud. But once this money has been confiscated from the convicted parties, what becomes of it?
Naturally, a large proportion makes its way back into the justice system, from the courts through to the police force. In addition, there are groups like Cashback for Communities, based in Scotland, who have used money recovered by the act to fund projects that benefit local people, including the installation of all-weather synthetic football pitches, providing courses for aspiring young filmmakers and musicians, and Just Play, an initiative that allows families from deprived areas to play in controlled, safe environments.
In 2012, Greater Manchester Police used £100,000 from proceeds of crime to run the LionHeart project, which saw the police force engage with local schoolchildren by holding a Dragon’s Den style competition where kids were asked to come up with a new crime-fighting tool. 30 schools participated and the finalist were judged by a panel of police officers and business owners. Similar projects take place in communities all over the country.
There are also those who believe that the money reclaimed from criminals should be used to help those on the wrong side of the law, specifically those not long out of prison. In June, Deputy Mike Higgins, a Jersey politician stated that cash from the Criminal Offences Confiscation Fund should be used to fund a new charity drop-in centre for ex-offenders and asked for £200,000 to be released to renovate a derelict workshop that would act as the premises.
In most cases, the feeling is such that the harm done to communities by criminal activity can be, in some small way, attenuated by using the ill-gotten gains for good. But there remains a huge sum of assets that haven’t been seized. As recently as January there was a story of a scottish criminal James Mangan who owes £225,000 to the government. Though £50 million has been seized in the last five years under the act, the scottish authorities have declared that the country’s richest criminals still owe around £7.5 million.
Since the 2002 version of the act, which contained the principal legislation on money laundering in the UK, solicitors who specialise in Proceeds of Crime Applications have become much more prevalent. Some of said solicitors consider the measures set in place by the act as draconian and have argued that assumptions can be made about how assets have been obtained, leading to inflated estimate for benefit of crime amounts. Confiscation proceedings can only be started against those who have been convicted of an offence, so if you are worried about your assets following a conviction see a solicitor as soon as possible.