Crooked accountants, lawyers and other professionals who profit from crime but are beyond the reach of the law will be targeted under measures to be announced in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech.
They will no longer be able to claim ignorance of their clients’ activities as a defence against prosecution.
A new offence of “participation in an organised crime group” could cover people who write legal contracts for major criminals, rent them warehouse space or provide them with courier services.
Those convicted of turning a blind eye to their criminal paymasters’ activities would face up to five years in jail under the legislation.
Karen Bradley, the Minister for Organised Crime, said: “Nobody is above the law, but for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.
“This new offence sends out a clear message to those individuals: if you are helping to oil the wheels of organised crime, you will be prosecuted and face being jailed.”
The legislation, which will be published within days, will also tighten penalties for criminals who fail to comply with orders to surrender their ill-gotten gains including savings, houses, yachts and cars. Nearly £1.5 billion is currently outstanding in unpaid confiscation orders.
It will increase prison sentences for refusing to hand over illegally acquired assets and will stop assets being transferred to spouses.
The legislation will be contained in one of two Home Office Bills covering the final session of this Parliament. The other will crack down on modern-day slavery and people trafficking.