Crown Office staff lacking the usual big bonus payouts have turned to seizing more of crooks cash. WHILE Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) battle headline after headline of collapsed prosecutions & failed investigations, allegations of corruption, evidence fiddling, racism, professional bias and poor value for money over it’s near ONE HUNDRED MILLION POUND administration & wages cost, a glimmer of light has emerged in it’s efforts to raise the amounts of cash ‘seized’ from crooks in the last financial year to around £10.5 million, according to figures announced yesterday by the Solicitor General. with £7 million coming from convicted drug dealers, money launderers and fraudsters while the Civil Recovery Unit claims to have recovered over £3.5 million during the same period.
In announcement from the Crown Office reporting this year's POCA figures, Lesley Thomson, the Solicitor General said : "Taking over £10.5 million from criminals is another great achievement by our dedicated Proceeds of Crime teams. "Just as important as the sum recovered is the disruption caused to individual criminals and serious and organised crime groups in Scotland. "Depriving criminals of their money and assets can significantly disrupt their activities, prevent them from re-investing their profits, and make it difficult for them to carry out their criminal enterprises. When the money and assets go so does the status and power.
The Solicitor General continued : "There is no place in Scotland for those who want a lifestyle funded by crime. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies to use Proceeds of Crime laws to make Scotland an increasingly hostile place for these criminals. "I also welcome today's publication of the Civil Recovery Unit's second Annual Report which provides further information about its activities over the past year."
Campaigners for legal reform have serious doubts over the credibility of Crown Office claims they pursue those who profit from criminal activities, pointing out that in cases where solicitors have financially ruined their clients and when matters were reported to the Crown Office, charges were dropped because of a perceived bias that Scotland’s prosecutors were refusing to prosecute their colleagues in the legal profession. In one recent case reported by Diary of Injustice & the Sunday Mail newspaper, a lawyer who was the subject of reports to the Crown Office, ‘moved escaped to Italy’ while the Law Society of Scotland dithered over taking further action. It later transpired the Crown Office had REFUSED to prosecute the lawyer even though matters had been reported to it’s Procurator Fiscal in Stirling.
Another equally serious issue of Crown Office failure was revealed in a Diary of Injustice investigation where Freedom of Information legislation revealed the Lord Advocate & prosecutors at the Crown Office had allowed FOURTEEN solicitors to escape charges for millions of pounds of legal aid fraud. More on this story can be read here : FOURTEEN lawyers accused of multi-million pound legal aid fraud escape justice as Scotland’s Crown Office fail to prosecute all cases in 5 years
Other than the almost accidental recovery of funds from now deceased solicitor James Muir, who stole a staggering 1.8 million pounds of legal aid from right under the noses of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, officials were unwilling to give figures for the remaining 13 solicitors apparently successful theft of taxpayer funded legal aid.
The investigation into the Crown Office and legal aid fraud carried out by Diary of Injustice also revealed one of the solicitors accused of legal aid fraud was actually married to a Crown Office prosecutor, a fact which the Crown Office deliberately concealed from the public. More on that story can be found here : Admissible Evidence ? Crown Office Prosecutor married to lawyer accused of legal aid fraud, both still working, Legal Aid Board ‘convinced of guilt’
Lindsey Miller, Head of the Serious and Organised Crime Division (SOCD) and the COPFS POCA Champion, said : “The Proceeds of Crime Act is a powerful tool in our armoury in the fight against crime in Scotland. We continue to make maximum use of the legislation to deprive criminals of money and assets. We target people who make money from all types of crime, from serious and organised criminals engaged in money laundering and drug dealing, to individuals committing tax and benefit fraud and immigration offences. We have also applied to the court in a number of cases this year to have administrators appointed to take control of houses where accused have been unable or unwilling to sell them to pay the confiscation order. This sends a strong message that the Crown will not tolerate delay and prevarication in the payment of an order. Our priority is disrupting and dismantling criminal enterprises, and we will continue to work with the police, SCDEA, HMRC and DWP to achieve this aim."
However, Mr Millar and the Crown Office have not answered questions over how much was seized from a Scottish Judge who was charged with Benefits Cheating, and is understood to have remained on the judiciary.
In the case of the Benefits Cheat judge, reported by Diary of Injustice here : ALL THE LORD PRESIDENT’S MEN : Benefits cheats, drunk drivers & tax dodgers, yet identities of convicted Scottish judges to remain secret for now the Crown Office protected their identity and refused to disclose any further details about the case, even where it was being held, despite COPFS staff regularly putting out Press Releases naming & shaming other benefits cheats.
The Crown Office have also still to answer questions over why no confiscation orders have been served on a solicitor, recently reported in the media to have committed mortgage fraud to obtain properties in Edinburgh.
A detailed investigation into the case of the solicitor falsely claiming a higher salary to obtain a morgate revealed the Crown Office had blundered and not even picked up on details published on the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal of the solicitor’s mortgage fraud, more on which can be read here : Law Society of Scotland ‘deliberately failed’ to report mortgage fraud solicitor to Crown Office as cosy Tribunal deal allows lawyer to escape justice
Another lawyer who stole 116K from clients also slipped the Crown Office ‘net’, featured in an article here : Lord Advocate Mulholland in the dock as Crown Office dithers over prosecuting yet another CROOKED LAWYER who stole £116K from client accounts
Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill said : "I welcome this excellent work by police and prosecutors, seizing millions cracking down on gangsters and their ill-gotten gains. Criminals don't contribute to our communities, they live off them and serious organised crime has an impact on everyone in Scotland, harming communities and legitimate businesses through drugs, extortion and counterfeit goods. "That is exactly why cash seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act should be used to benefit communities which have suffered from criminal acts. "Our CashBack for Communities programme invests crooks' cash in building better, safer, stronger communities, improving facilities, taking young people off the streets and putting them on a positive path. We have invested over £45m in providing opportunities for some 600,000 young people to take part in hundreds of thousands of free sports and cultural activities since CashBack began in 2007.
The Justice Secretary continued : "Last year amendments were made to the Proceeds of Crime Act to provide law enforcement agencies with additional powers to target a wider range of criminals and criminal conduct. We are continuing to look at other ways to refine the Act to make it even more effective, and we are working closely with the Home Office to do so. We have also allocated approximately £2 million funding for financial investigators in the police and the Crown Office, to ensure even more criminals are targeted."
In spite of the Justice Secretary’s fine words over recovering assets from criminals, Mr MacAskill was quick to support Crown Office staff linked to legal aid fraudster solicitors, more of which was featured in an earlier article by Diary of Injustice here : Justice Secretary’s discredited defence for Crown Office in 14 legal aid fraud scandals as links between accused lawyers & Scots crime agencies emerge
The amount recovered by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Civil Recovery Unit in the last 12 months brings the total secured since the commencement of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) in 2003 to over £69 million, which it is claimed has been put to the Scottish Consolidated Fund to be reinvested in Scottish communities via the CashBack for Communities programme.
However, as the Sunday Mail newspaper reports, in spite of the high profile announcement from the Crown Office over this year’s £10.5 million figure of cash seizures from crooks, officials refused to give actual figures as to how much money has actually been paid back. The paper reported : “Officials also admit they don’t know how much of the £10.5million has been paid. The Scottish Court Service said: “We don’t have a breakdown.”
A regular court observer told Diary of Injustice earlier today : “This now annual show from the Crown Office seems more like a pitch for increased salaries or the return of lavish bonus payments”.
He continued : “If you take into account the high profile failures of prosecutions in the courts, and more case collapses than I’ve had hot dinners, I wouldn't be surprised if a significant proportion of monies recovered from criminals will end up going on court fees, legal fees and lawyers jollies”