New crackdown on crime associates

Mid Devon Star: Crime associates are facing a new crackdown with a possible five-year jail sentence Crime associates are facing a new crackdown with a possible five-year jail sentence

Corrupt lawyers, accountants, landlords and couriers could face up to five years in jail if they profit from crimes to which they turn a blind eye, the Home Office announced today.

A new offence, of "participation in an organised crime group", will target people who help crime gangs by not asking why they require their services.

The legislation is aimed at criminal "associates" who aid illegal activity - such as professionals who write up contracts, landlords renting out warehouse space or couriers delivering packages with a "no questions asked" approach - and then who later in court deny any knowledge of the nature of the activity they are involved in.

The new powers will also be used to target the "Mr Bigs" behind criminal networks, who often plan, co-ordinate and manage crime empires but "do not always get their hands dirty".

As well as facing a five-year prison sentence, those convicted under the new offence could also face civil measures to deter them from returning to crime.

Karen Bradley, minister for modern slavery and 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."

Police and the National Crime Agency will also be given greater powers to seize criminal assets more quickly, close loopholes which criminals use to get round confiscation and crack down on those who avoid paying.

Assets belonging to criminals will also be frozen more quickly, the time to pay confiscation orders will be halved from 12 months to six, and prison sentences for failing to pay confiscation orders will also be increased.

Judges will be required to consider adding overseas travel bans to confiscation orders and legislation will ensure that criminal assets cannot be hidden with spouses or third parties.

There is currently £1.48bn outstanding in unpaid confiscation orders in the UK.

Since 2010 more than £746 million of criminal assets have been seized. More than £2.5 billion of criminal assets have been frozen and £93 million returned to victims.

In March it was revealed that just 26p in every £100 of criminal proceeds was clawed back by authorities last year.

The Public Accounts Committee also said that £490 million is owed by criminals who have served or are serving more time in prison for non-payment, suggesting sentences provide little deterrence and sanctions need toughening up.

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