This week’s Dispatches reveals how as the country battles austerity, the authorities are failing to recover hundreds of millions of pounds which the courts have ordered convicted criminals to pay back to the taxpayer. Former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who brought in the powers allowing courts to recover the proceeds of crime, describes his Act as a “total failure”. (Britain’s Millionaire Criminals: a Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 22 April, 8pm)
In a joint investigation with the London Evening Standard, Dispatches has obtained a list of 178 convicted men and women who between them have been ordered by the courts to pay back £675 million. However, only 11 per cent of the amount owed has been handed over and there seems little chance that the authorities will recover much more.
In 2002 the Proceeds of Crime act came into force, giving the authorities tough new powers to force convicted criminals to pay up the money they’d made from crime or face being sent back to jail. However, 10 years on from its introduction, only a fraction of the money owed has ever been collected by the organisations tasked with recovering it.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett tells Dispatches he thinks the Act has been a “total failure”: “I think over the last 10 years the Act has not been implemented effectively. I don’t think we thought through effectively how we would empower and encourage a variety of agencies to take action… I think we need much more joined up thinking on policy.”
The programme shows how criminals hide assets through transferring them into the names of members of their families or friends, or companies incorporated in foreign countries. It can then take years of legal battles to establish ownership and whether the asset can be seized.
Those on the list obtained by Dispatches include major fraudsters, drug barons, money launderers and many who are linked to organised crime: Top of the list is VAT fraudster Emmanuel Hening, who owes a staggering £47million; Shakeel Ahmad and Syed Mubarak Ahmed both owe £19m each for VAT fraud; Khalid Malik was convicted of drugs offences and owes £11million; and Noel Young was convicted of money laundering and owes £9million.
Chief Inspector Mick Creedon, the ACPO lead overseeing the Proceeds of Crime Act, tells Dispatches: “It’s a real frustration to know that a person has been properly convicted before a jury ... a court has put in place a confiscation order but the order has still not been enforced.”
Once freed after serving their sentence, criminals can face another jail term of up to ten years if they don’t repay the money they owe – what is known as a default sentence. However, many of those on the list have not paid back the money they owe and not been forced to serve a default sentence.
Chief Inspector Mick Creedon tells the programme: “It seems to me inexcusable that a default sentence isn’t served. If the court has imposed a sentence and a default sentence in lieu of the payment not being made there is no reason on earth that shouldn’t be served, I find that quite staggering.”
David Blunkett tells the programme he favours keeping convicted criminals in prison until they start paying up: “If I had my time again I would have said yes, the extended sentence would exist until, not when but until, they actually determine that they were going to cooperate.. It’s a classic that makes people of this country extremely exasperated, no more than that, it makes them extremely angry that we somehow fail to act quickly enough… it’s almost as though we give people a chance to get out before we can take action against them.”
The Crown Prosecution Service, together with the courts, is the agency in charge of making criminals pay-up. But Chief Inspector Creedon says that many police officers feel that the CPS doesn’t understand properly how to prosecute the cases and help recover the money. He says there should be a dedicated CPS lawyer in each police branch station tasked with recovering the money owed by criminals.