Police are seeking greater powers to pursue wealthy criminals across Europe who skip the country to avoid jail without paying back millions of pounds of criminal assets.
Gangsters who fail to pay back ill-gotten gains can face up to ten years behind bars in addition to their original sentences under a law designed to prevent convicts from enjoying the profits of their crimes.
But senior police criticised the "ludicrous" situation that allowed some to take advantage of the gap between the end of their original sentences and being ordered back to prison to head abroad without paying any money back.
Figures earlier this year revealed that 17 absconders who owed almost £110 million under court-imposed confiscation orders and accrued interest had avoided payment by fleeing abroad and ignoring demands to pay up.
Some fled before their initial jail terms but others left before they were forced to serve the additional terms. They include crooked travel agent Christakis Philippou who conned thousands of holidaymakers in a £7m scam. He was jailed for seven years - but fled after his sentence still owing another £2.9m and avoided a further seven year term, according to a freedom of information request documents.
There are currently few powers for police to bring them back to Britain because refusing to pay the so called 'confiscation orders' is not a criminal offence. But police and prosecution lawyers are examining legislation in the hope that they can use or amend the European Arrest Warrant - a controversial tactic that allows a fugitive to be arrested in the EU and sent back to the country where it is issued - to target white-collar criminals.
"It's ludicrous that someone can flee the country potentially with millions outstanding… and feel that then they are free to do what they want and live off ill-gotten gains," said Det Supt Nick Downing, the head of Economic Crime at Scotland Yard.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, yesterday called for changes to the law and for extensions to the penalty sentences for failing to pay back criminal proceeds. The last available figures show that £1.2 billion remains outstanding from confiscation orders while only £118 million was recovered last year.