Monday, November 12, 2007

SCDEA Chief - new asset seizure powers required to stop spread of 'mafia' in Scotland

Graeme Pearson, retiring from the role as Director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) said much stronger powers of asset seizure are needed to tackle organised crime in Scotland and prevent it spreading into legitimate business & public life.

Words of warning coming too late perhaps ?

The Scotsman reports :

Strip Mr Bigs of cash or their 'Mafia' will soon corrupt Scots police, judges, MSPs


SWEEPING new powers to strip criminals of their assets are needed to avoid mafia-style corruption taking root in Scotland, a newly retired police chief has warned.

Graeme Pearson, who served his last day as director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) yesterday, said current asset recovery legislation was "too restrictive" and insisted much tougher powers were needed to "isolate" organised crime and prevent it spreading further into legitimate businesses and spheres of public life.

And he warned that senior public figures in Scotland could become irreparably scarred by corruption unless more action is taken to deny the country's "Mr Bigs" their power and wealth.

Some of the country's most senior criminals are being allowed to keep millions of pounds in assets, despite being targeted by new legislation designed to strip them of their illicit wealth.

The scale of criminal wealth in Scotland is massive. It is understood that the country has at least 100 millionaire criminals.

Last month, Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, announced more than £2 million was seized from criminals in the first half of 2007/08, taking the total amount of money and assets recovered to in excess of £17.5 million since the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) was introduced in 2002.

As The Scotsman revealed in August, a further £10 million of money and assets, such as luxury houses, cars and bank accounts, have been restrained by police.

Dozens of drug barons, gangsters and other leading crime figures have been targeted, including John "The Iceman" Stevenson, who, earlier in the year, was jailed for more than 12 years for his part in a massive money laundering operation.

The Crown Office has been in negotiations with his lawyers over how much can be seized under POCA, with more than £1 million set to be taken.

But it is understood that Scotland's biggest gangland figure will still be a millionaire, having had around £2.3 million worth of assets identified by police.

Mr Pearson, who has stepped down after four years in charge of the agency, said police were hamstrung by the fact that the legislation only allows assets to be taken if the court can prove they were the product of crime.

"This might sound Draconian, but if you as a businessman with legitimate assets become involved in organised crime, then I think when you mix dirty money with clean money, we should be able to take the lot.

"People cannot understand why we leave criminals still living in comfortable circumstances because we have to separate clean money from dirty money."

While welcoming the POCA legislation, Mr Pearson said its restrictive nature meant the assets police were able to seize from criminals were only "the tip of the iceberg".

He said the security industry, taxi trade and other ventures had become "corrupted" by organised crimes and said there was a danger that public figures, including politicians and judges, could similarly be tarnished.

He added: "It is important for the future that we do more work to remove the role models from organised crime - in doing that we need to strip them of their assets. Organised crime is not motivated by wealth, they only seek wealth to have power, influence and control.

"If we remove the role models and their assets, they don't have power, influence and control. The danger for civilised society, as we've seen elsewhere, is they corrupt anything they come into contact with. The security industry has been corrupted, saunas, nail boutiques, taxis - all lose the notion of legitimacy.

"They lose any notion of integrity because organised crime becomes involved in it.

"If you look in places like Italy, where regularly police officers, politicians and judges are arrested because of their alleged involvement in criminality, it would be naive to think that public life in Scotland couldn't be corrupted by these people."

Mr Pearson said the threat of having a business taken away would prove a powerful deterrent to "legitimate" individuals getting involved with money-laundering and other forms of organised crime.

"The pressure I see coming from such a change [in the law] would be that, if you're a legitimate businessman and I, as a criminal, come to involve you in my business, you would say, 'I've got a legitimate business - if I mix with you I lose my business'. You create a gap between criminality and legitimate business."


WHILE police and prosecutors have managed to net nearly £18 million in assets funded by drugs and other organised crime, many of those targeted have managed to preserve a far greater slice of their wealth.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of illegally earned money have been laundered, and hidden, through private taxi firms in particular.

Jamie "The Iceman" Stevenson is understood to be worth more than £8 million, his wealth including properties overseas and bank accounts in other people's names. He was jailed for almost 13 years in April over a £1 million money-laundering scheme. He is set to relinquish around £1.5 million through the proceeds of crime legislation.

Alexander Donnelly, who headed a major cocaine-trafficking ring, last year struck a deal with the Crown that saw him give up £177,000. But his drug-importing scheme is thought to have earned him a seven-figure sum.

Others who were able to make, and keep, millions of pounds from organised crime include Tam "The Licensee" McGraw, who built a multi-million-pound fortune from drug-dealing and extortion. He was one of the first major crime figures to realise the need to hide his wealth. Everything he owned was in wife Margaret's name. He died in July after amassing £14 million, laundered largely through private taxi firms.

Tony McGovern and his crime family gathered more than £14 million through Network Private Hire. McGovern was gunned down after leaving his local Glasgow pub in September 2000.

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