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Asset Recovery Regime

Volume 618: debated on Monday 5 December 2016

6. What steps her Department is taking to confiscate money from criminals; and what plans she has further to strengthen the asset recovery regime. (907620)

9. What steps her Department is taking to confiscate money from criminals; and what plans she has further to strengthen the asset recovery regime. (907623)

Since 2010, £1.2 billion of criminal assets have been recovered, and a further £3 billion have been frozen. The Serious Crime Act 2015 provided new powers, and the Criminal Finances Bill will further improve our capability, but there is more to be done. Next year we will publish a new asset recovery action plan, and the Cabinet Office will look at the UK’s response to economic crime more broadly. This will include looking at the effectiveness of our organisational framework and the capabilities, resources and powers available to the organisations that tackle economic crime.

I thank the Home Secretary for that. The Criminal Finances Bill contains many measures to combat illegal and immoral financial activity, but can my right hon. Friend confirm that the new law enforcement measures in relation to unexplained wealth orders will ensure not only that we can better combat illegal activity but that the principles of transparency will be upheld?

My hon. Friend raises a really important point. Unexplained wealth orders will send a powerful statement to those who wish to launder the proceeds of their crimes in the UK. They are an investigative power and so will be subject to the same court rules that apply to the existing civil recovery investigative powers.

What my right hon. Friend says is welcome, but can she assure me that the asset recovery regime will extend to all forms of crime, and particularly tax evasion? The potential financial gains from tax evasion are large, and whatever people think about it being a victimless crime, it is wrong, and the regime should apply to it as well.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is an important part of the new proceeds of crime legislation, and, yes, it will be included in it.

What discussions is the Home Secretary having with her European counterparts to ensure that once we leave the European Union, we will have access to all the data we can currently access in relation to assets held abroad?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that I am having extensive discussions with European counterparts and with European bodies that help to keep us safe, so that when we do leave the European Union, we will, as far as possible, be able to have access to that information. When people voted to leave the European Union, they did not vote to be less safe.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we recently opted into the new elements of Europol. In terms of looking forward, we are in discussions on that matter. I can tell him that we are one of the largest contributors to Europol. We play an important part in it. It will be part of the ongoing negotiations. [Official Report, 12 December 2016, Vol. 618, c. 3-4MC.]

I refer my hon. Friend to the new legislation. She is absolutely right that the trouble is that criminals will always try to get ahead of us in finding ways to launder their money and the proceeds of their activities. We are determined to make sure that we get ahead of them, which is why we are having the new legislation put in place.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the cross-border flow of proceeds from criminal activity, corruption and tax evasion is estimated at over $1 trillion a year, and that half that money was looted from poor and developing countries? What steps is she taking to make it easier for these poor countries to recover stolen assets from UK, Crown dependency and overseas territory financial institutions?

We take dealing with the proceeds of crime incredibly seriously, and the idea that there are people who commit criminal acts and then come to the UK is very unwelcome. One of the elements we have to deal with that is the new unexplained wealth orders. They do apply to foreign persons also in the UK, and they will go part of the way to addressing exactly what the hon. Lady describes in terms of the transfer of illegal funds.