Forfeiture of certain personal (or moveable) property

Part of Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 17 Tachwedd 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security) 2:00, 17 Tachwedd 2016

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway for his amendment, which was set out in the Scottish National party’s manifesto for this year’s Scottish Parliament elections. The Government take this issue seriously, as do the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government.

As we have heard, to avoid detection, criminals use a range of means to transfer value among themselves. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors—particularly those operating in Scotland—have made us aware of criminals’ use of gaming vouchers and casino chips to do that. There has been media coverage of drug dealers using fixed odds betting terminals to convert cash obtained from street drug dealing into vouchers issued by those machines. Those vouchers can either be converted into cash at the bookmaker, thus laundering the funds, or transferred to another person to pay the drug dealer’s debts.

The Proceeds of Crime Act contains provisions that enable law enforcement agencies to seize cash, but those provisions do not extend to the type of criminal tactic that I have just described, so clauses 12 and 13 seek to allow those agencies to freeze, seize and seek forfeiture of illicit funds held in bank accounts and other forms of criminal property used to transfer value. It has always been the Government’s intention to include gambling vouchers and casino chips in those provisions, as I made clear on Second Reading. When the Bill was introduced, we were still looking at the best way of achieving that in legislation, but I tabled new clause 10 on Monday—I apologise for doing so at the beginning of the Committee stage and not giving hon. Members more time to look at it—which will add gambling vouchers and casino chips to the definition of cash in the Proceeds of Crime Act and allow law enforcement agencies to seize those items on the same basis as they can seize cash, where their individual or aggregate value is more than £1,000.

Officers will have to demonstrate to a court that they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that vouchers or casino chips are either proceeds of crime or intended for use in unlawful conduct. That is an important safeguard that we apply to all forms of seizure. Law enforcement agencies will need to show why they seek the detention of the property, and will be able to seek administrative forfeiture of vouchers or tokens, or the agreement of a court. In all cases, an individual who believes that such vouchers or tokens are theirs legitimately will be able to challenge their detention or forfeiture.

I turn to the hon. Gentleman’s point and why we have used the term “gaming vouchers” rather than “betting slips”. In discussions with law enforcement agencies, we have identified that there is a major concern about the laundering of proceeds of crime through machines that provide a guaranteed return if they are played in a certain way. Those machines produce pay-out vouchers with a value that can then be cashed in. Betting slips, such as those used for horse racing, are used for betting with no guaranteed return and, therefore, are much more risky for use in money laundering.

However, once the points had been raised by the hon. Gentleman, I asked officials to examine whether there is potential to extend the Bill to ensure that we cover betting slips as well. As someone who likes the horses and knows his way round a losing—rather than a winning —bet, I understand that the ability to exploit that type of bet could potentially lead to such money laundering.