Advanced Search

Alison Saunders on asset recovery - Madrid speech

25/02/2014

Good morning. I am very pleased to be with you here today. Spain and the UK enjoy an excellent working relationship on criminal justice matters and I am looking forward to us building on that further over the course of this conference.

I became a prosecutor to secure justice for victims. And justice does not end with a conviction.

Whenever a criminal retains the proceeds of their crime someone suffers. That may be an identifiable victim, such as someone who has been defrauded . Or it may be the public at large.

The modern prosecutor can do far more to disrupt criminals than ever before. The proceeds of crime are used to fund further crime; they are the lifeblood of organised criminals and fraudsters. Our asset recovery powers are a means of restricting that blood supply and I am determined to use them to their full extent.

That will mean taking action both at home and abroad. Organised criminals have become adept at moving their criminal proceeds across borders in order to prevent their assets from being confiscated - and so we must also work across borders to stop them.

This morning I want to briefly set the context we are all working in and outline UK legislation before going on to explain what we are doing to ensure that crime does not pay.

The challenge

The scale of the challenge is massive. In April 2012, the Head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime announced that crime generates an estimated £1.3 trillion in global annual proceeds, or 3.6 per cent of the world's gross domestic product - making criminal business equivalent to one of the top 20 economies in the world.

The legislative background

The UK legislative history of addressing confiscation issues is comparatively recent. In 1980, the House of Lords, our highest appeal court, noted with considerable regret in the case of Operation Julie (R -v- Cuthbertson [1981] A.C. 470) that profits of £750,000 from drug production could not be forfeited under the relevant part of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 because they represented the profits of the conspiracy, and were not directly connected to the criminal act itself. This remained the case until the passing of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act in 1986 (DTOA). For non-drug cases, it was not until the passing of the Criminal Justice Act in 1988 (CJA 1988), that it was possible in England and Wales to confiscate the benefit from a defendant's crimes.

Later the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA 2002) simplified this dual process, extended restraint and financial investigative powers and consolidated money laundering offences.

The Act introduced a three-tier approach to asset recovery. Firstly, criminal confiscation following conviction. Secondly, non-conviction based forfeiture, which includes civil cash seizure/forfeiture in the magistrates' court and civil recovery in the High Court; and thirdly, criminal taxation. The CPS is concerned with confiscation following conviction and civil recovery.

The Proceeds of Crime Act transformed the UK's response to asset recovery. Over the past decade the amount successfully confiscated from criminals has gone up from £25m to more than £150m a year - with the CPS responsible for recovering more than two thirds of that in 2012/13. Criminals are also deprived of their proceeds through fines; compensation, deprivation and forfeiture orders; and costs.

However, we know there is more we can do to recover the proceeds of crime - wherever they are hidden - and further improving our performance in this crucial area is a priority for the CPS and for me personally as the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The CPS Strategy

We are developing a new strategy to do just that - and international cooperation will be central to our efforts.

We need to step up our coordination with international partners to really make international asset recovery work. Serious crime and terrorism is international in nature and it is now widely understood that international asset recovery must be an integral part of our response to these threats. Borders mean little to criminals and terrorists and the international community must be able to quickly and effectively assist each other in obtaining evidence and by freezing and then confiscating assets.

ARAs

We plan to deploy up to six specialist lawyers as Asset Recovery Advisors - or ARAs - overseas to priority countries, to work directly with local criminal justice agencies and partners in government to improve asset recovery in both the short and longer term.

Specifically, the ARAs will:

  1. support international financial investigations through clear, informed, expert casework advice and assistance; and
  2. assist on policy and legislative developments, helping to identify where systemic or legal change in the UK or elsewhere would increase the ability to seize more illicit assets.

This is not just about the UK recovering assets overseas - we are also keen to help our partner countries seize any assets within the UK. We have been working on this with Italy in recent months and plan to substantially increase our activity on behalf of other countries - with the new ARAs and our other overseas staff playing a key role.

We have found success in this partnership approach in a number of countries, not just on asset recovery but also on counter-terrorism, piracy and organised crime.

Assistance to Spain

I understand that Spain is undergoing a whole scale change in its criminal legislation, including amplifying the scope of restraint and confiscation provisions in line with the proposed EU Directive on the subject. We are keen to work with you and to assist in this process.

Spain is a very important partner for the UK on asset recovery.60 per cent of the Spanish Asset Recovery Office's work is related to British cases and in just 10 priority cases we believe there are more than £8million of recoverable British assets in Spain.

So I am pleased to announce that we are creating an ARA role in Spain.

Our current Liaison Magistrate - Marc Robinson - will take on this new role, and another prosecutor will deploy here shortly to undertake the Liaison Magistrate role. I invite you to continue to work with him to tackle the asset recovery challenges that we all face.

I know that Marc is already working closely with the team drafting the amendments to the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Law, in order to appreciate fully the implications of the changes. Marc has also been invited to assist the team in revising the suggested amendments to be put before parliament before the law is finalised. I thank you for your engagement and cooperation at this level, which can only bring further benefit to international asset recovery.

Marc has been invited by the lead on establishing an asset management office at the CGPJ (Judiciary Council) to join in discussions on the way forward, including discussions on how the new legislation deals with this issue. Again, this work will go some way to improving the operating environment in Spain and ensuring continued cooperation between Spain and the UK in the long term.

We are also creating a new Asset Recovery Advisor post in the United Arab Emirates and are working with our partners to determine where else to deploy these specialist prosecutors.

Money laundering

Moving on briefly to money laundering - in the UK we are fortunate in having an all crimes approach to the offence of money laundering and conviction of a money laundering offence may lead to powerful assumptions applying in confiscation proceedings and to the making of an extended benefit confiscation order. We are keen to work with our law enforcement partners to develop more effective ways to investigate and to prosecute money laundering offences, particularly when the particular underlying criminal offence or type of offence may be unclear and we have to rely upon the surrounding circumstantial evidence to prove that property held by a defendant is criminal in origin. We would welcome your views and experience in this regard.

Closing

We must and will ensure that we recover assets, wherever they are hidden around the world. International cooperation will be vital - and I look forward to working with you over these two days and into the future.

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are four national casework divisions: Central Fraud, Welfare Rural & Health, Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. A 'virtual' 14th Area is CPS Direct which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. At 31 March 2013 we employed a workforce of approximately 6840 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2350 prosecutors and 4110 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:  www.cps.gov.uk.
  4. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.