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

Well, I will not say what we used to call it when I was in the Scottish Parliament. We will call it the SNP. I never say “separatists”, obviously.

Clause 12 will create new powers to seize and forfeit moveable items of property where they are suspected to be the proceeds of crime. Criminals launder the proceeds of their crimes to benefit from their criminal activity and carry it on. They are resourceful in using any mechanism to hold and move illicit funds, and we need to ensure that we are able to respond to that threat. Criminals hold the proceeds of crime in a variety of forms, which act as a store of value and a means through which such value can be transferred. Some, such as cash, gold and diamonds, can be easily moved or concealed. In some cases, these items can be readily sold for cash or dissipated through other means.

We want to take action to prevent criminals from transferring their illicit funds however they choose to do it, and the clause should be seen as part of a framework for seizing such assets, alongside the existing cash seizure provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act and the new provisions in clause 13 for the freezing and forfeiture of funds held in bank accounts.

The cash seizure and administrative forfeiture procedures in POCA were designed to prevent cash from being moved or dissipated in the time that it would take to seek a restraint order. Cash seizure is widely used, both inland and at the UK border. The existing legislation does not allow law enforcement agencies to take the same action in the case of other highly mobile stores of value. Evidence suggests that those items are being used to move value both domestically and across international borders.

The clause will give law enforcement agencies new powers to seize and forfeit certain listed items, such as precious metals and stones, where they have reasonable grounds to suspect that those items are the proceeds of crime or are intended for use in unlawful conduct. The clause will strengthen law enforcement agencies’ ability to disrupt criminal funding by preventing value from being transferred and enable the recovery of criminal property.

The Bill sets out the list of items that can be seized by agencies. The list has been drawn from discussions with law enforcement agencies and from reviewing the approach taken by other states. We have set the minimum value level for the seizure of listed items at £1,000, which is the same as for cash. There will be no upper limit, again mirroring the existing cash provisions. We have set no higher limit, as we believe there are potential circumstances where the value of the item is likely to be significant, and law enforcement agencies need the power to seize the item if there is reasonable suspicion that it is the proceeds of crime. There is evidence of that, particularly in relation to works of art being used to store illicit value and then transferred internationally. Some Members might have heard last week that a French impressionist painting was discovered in a mafia house. Should we discover one of those in the United Kingdom, I do not think we would like to cap what we could seize. I want to be clear that we do not intend that this power should be used indiscriminately. That is why the power can be used only in respect of certain listed items and is subject to oversight by a court.

We have also introduced two additional safeguards. First, within six hours of the seizure, a senior officer must review the seizure and authorise the continued detention. Secondly, we are not, in these cases, permitting administrative forfeiture. That procedure is available in the existing cash forfeiture system and allows a law enforcement agency to forfeit cash without obtaining a court order, in circumstances where the owner does not object. Due to the possibility of greater complexity of the cases, such as property being jointly owned and difficult to sever, administrative forfeiture is not appropriate. We want to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to seize such items. At present, there is a short list, but we intend that it will be amended over time to reflect changes in criminal behaviour.