Justice: Hitting criminals where it hurts

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Suspected crime barons should be made to account to the courts for their wealth, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary said yesterday.

It said new laws, similar to those used in the United States to combat the mafia, were needed to fight the increasing sophistication of organised crime in Britain.

Courts should be empowered to demand from suspected criminals an explanation for their wealth if they had no legitimate means of income. If a suspect could not prove that assets were lawfully obtained, the courts should have the power to seize them, HMIC said in a major report on criminal intelligence work.

"The most ruthless, organised criminals rarely put themselves in personal danger of arrest or charge," the report said. "They establish criminal networks which distance their involvement and legitimate `front' businesses to launder their illicit profits.

"They have structures which include couriers, `safe houses', quartermasters and legal support on retainer.

"In their own fashion they are `businessmen' and are as far removed from the outmoded stereotype of the villain in popular fiction as Dixon of Dock Green is from the present reality of policing."

The report also called for greater investigation of the assets of major criminals who were convicted, with a view to seizing the proceeds of crime.

"Limited investigative resources mean that inquiries are confined to obtaining evidence to convict offenders and are insufficient to pursue asset tracing beyond this point," it said.

Some large scale inquiries could be contracted out to forensic accountants and auditors, it added.