Police to use Capone ploy on gangland

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The Independent Online
POLICE ARE seeking access to the tax files of suspected drugs barons and big criminals in secret negotiations with the Inland Revenue.

The move, which mirrors the tactics used to smash the empire of 1920s Chicago mobster Al Capone, would for the first time allow police to study the tax affairs of private individuals.

The tactic has civil liberties implications but would provide police with a crucial tool in their attempts to bring down the top-tier criminals who are able to distance themselves from their illegal activities.

Senior officials at the Inland Revenue have been holding talks with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Criminal Intelligence Service aimed at developing a system which would not be open to abuse.

A senior NCIS source said: "The Revenue are all for it. At the moment we have the ability to pass information to them but they can't pass information to us. We want to get to the stage where, in serious organised crime investigations, there is a cross-flow of intelligence."

The talks are likely to lead to the agreement next month of a memorandum of understanding between the Revenue, police and the NCIS. The document is likely to go before the Treasury Minister, Barbara Roche, who is considering legislation to permit such information sharing.

Treasury officials are understood to be looking at the possibility of including the proposal as an amendment to the Finance Act. The arrangement would be partly modelled on the Criminal Assets Bureau in Ireland, where tax officers and police share information.

It is understood that the NCIS would seek to act as a clearing house for all requests for tax information made by individual police forces. If the request satisfied the necessary criteria, it would be passed on to the Revenue.

Last night John Wadham, of the human rights group Liberty, said police access to tax files should not be given "where the police simply want to ferret around in people's files" and called for a system which was regulated by the courts.

He said: "There may be circumstances where the police have a justifiable reason to have access to Inland Revenue files but there should be an independent check to see that this is not abused. The obvious solution is for that independent check to be a judge."

Police chiefs hope that tax inspectors will be drafted in to work at a new confiscation agency being considered by the Home Office as a way of targeting criminals' assets.

Simon Goddard, of the strategic and specialist intelligence branch at NCIS, said police are failing to confiscate the money and assets of the top level drug traffickers. "We are not getting the right people. We are not getting the Mr Bigs behind it all," he said. "Between 1987 and 1996 only 157 drug trafficking confiscation orders for pounds 100,000 or more were made against a background of over 45,000 convictions for supply of drugs."

Law enforcement agencies are also concerned that new opportunities for drug traffickers and criminals to launder their money are being created by the introduction of the euro.