Suffolk: Criminals ordered to repay nearly �5million in last two years

FRAUDSTERS, drug dealers, brothel owners and thieves are among those who have discovered the far-reaching might of Suffolk Constabulary’s financial investigators.

A sign of how widespread punitive financial punishments are becoming is the steep rise in money and assets being clawed back from criminals.

In the past ten years courts have ordered the confiscation of �8,507,459 in assets after applications by the county’s financial investigation unit. Nearly �5million of that figure was ordered in the last two years alone.

Detectives say the growth shows the increasingly powerful effects of the Proceeds of Crime Act, which came into effect on April 1, 2003.

It has led to crooks in Suffolk being ordered to repay �2.71m in 2010/11 and �2.1m in 2011/12.

In addition to orders being made in crown court following criminal proceedings, magistrates can also approve civil applications to retain money officers have seized, irrespective of whether a person has been convicted or not. In these cases the burden of proof is on the person involved to prove the money has not been gained through crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Steve Mattin, of Suffolk Constabulary’s organised crime unit, said: “The legislation is a useful investigative tool. It is not solely about money. It is about investigating crime, understanding the criminal, and stripping their assets from them.”

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Over the years offenders have not only lost cash, but also houses, cars, and expensive jewellery.

Det Ch Insp Mattin said: “We are targeting those who bring misery to the community and the county through their criminal activity.

“Before 2003 someone could walk away with the cash and still carry on a lavish lifestyle.

“I think the Proceeds of Crime Act really does hit criminals where it hurts. If someone is sentenced to a term of imprisonment their cash is not waiting for them. There is now no lavish lifestyle to come back to.

“It is a reality-check to the individual concerned. This reality-check, in some circumstances, motivates them to give up crime.

“It’s not only about the drug dealers, it’s also about the shoplifters and others like them.

“There’s no hiding place for the criminal. The message is a strong one. If you commit a crime, we will come after you.”

Another aspect of the Proceeds of Crime Act is that it can be retrospective. Should a criminal not be able to pay the amount ordered for confiscation the order stays in place until they have paid in full. Therefore, if someone is bequeathed a house years later, or has enough money to buy a car these assets can be confiscated and sold for the debt to be paid back.

Det Ch Insp Mattin said: “It is like a mortgage. You are saddled with a proceeds of crime order which stays with you until it is paid. You basically are really paying your debt to society.

“We will review cases to ensure assets have not been bequeathed or that people have not come into new wealth, and we will go back and seek those.

“We work really closely with other criminal justice agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Court Service, as well as the community.

“If somebody who is living in your community and appears to be enjoying a lifestyle funding funded by crime we want to hear from you. I would encourage you to contact us either by telephoning 101 or Crimestoppers on freephone 0800 555111.”

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