My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Vernon Coaker) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government will be bringing forward proposals to merge the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), and to extend to prosecutors the power to launch civil recovery action under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
The Assets Recovery Agency has successfully steered the radical new powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act through every legal challenge it has faced. It is recovering significant amounts of criminally acquired wealth, including a recent settlement worth over £12 million. There are significant synergies in merging the ARA with SOCA, as SOCA builds its understanding of organised crime and widens the toolkit used to tackle it.
In recognition of the high profile, public confidence and success achieved by the ARA in Northern Ireland in tackling organised crime and dealing with organised criminals, SOCA will have a designated officer responsible for asset recovery work in Northern Ireland, and there will be no diminution in the resources available for assets recovery work there.
The ARA’s centre of excellence, which trains and accredits financial investigators, will be moved to the new National Policing Improvement Agency.
Extending the power to launch civil recovery proceedings to prosecutors will enable us to broaden the range of cases where these powers are used, and help us take performance to the next level. The power to launch civil recovery proceedings will be extended to the three main prosecutors in England and Wales; the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Revenue and Customs Prosecutions Office (RCPO) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). It will also be extended to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland.
Subject to the passing of the necessary legislation, the merger provisions are likely to come into force from April 2008. Both the ARA and SOCA are committed to maintaining their efforts in the recovery of criminal assets during the transition.