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Asset Recovery Programme

Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

6. What steps she is taking to confiscate money from criminals; and how she plans further to strengthen the asset recovery programme. (901141)

Since 2010, we have recovered £1.4 billion under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 provides important new powers to improve the asset recovery system, such as unexplained wealth orders and the forfeiture of bank accounts. The Government are also implementing the recommendations of a 2016 Public Accounts Committee report, and our asset recovery action plan will be published by the end of the calendar year.

Serious criminals view prison as an occupational hazard, but they do not like it when law enforcement hits them in the wallet and goes after their illegally obtained assets. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that the National Crime Agency will use the exciting new powers, including unexplained wealth orders, that it has been given?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are determined that unexplained wealth orders should be used not only by the NCA but by broader law enforcement to ensure that people have to prove where they got their wealth. Using that reverse burden of proof makes sure that we progress to taking an asset if a criminal’s wealth is unexplained and might have resulted from criminality.

Is the Minister aware that we regard the National Crime Agency as a bunch of amateurs in this field? People are increasingly talking about a big Russian mafia presence in London that is spending huge fortunes on organising crime. When will he take those people seriously and do something about them?

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know—it might make him a bit happier—that that is why unexplained wealth orders, when applied to people outside the European economic area, have a lower burden of proof in court, so that we can freeze their assets and ensure that such people prove where they got their billions. We can then take the money and redistribute it back to the people who need it, either the law enforcement agencies or back to the countries from which they might have stolen it.

Can the Minister assure me that we will retain the European arrest warrant, retain co-operation with other European police forces and use all the powers we have in Europe, as well as in the United Kingdom, to bring such assets to justice?

I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is exactly our goal to keep all those measures, but there is another party on the other side of the negotiating table. We would like to keep those measures, and we will ask for that—perhaps he could ask them, too—and let us hope they give it to us.