SOMEWHERE in Spain, perhaps in the “Costa del Crime”, there lies a street where all the villas are currently in the possession of Scottish prosecutors.
Keen to extend its reach under the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Crown Office has “restrained” the properties as it seeks to disrupt the illegal activities of Scottish criminals living it up overseas.
The owners of the properties – believed to be friends and family of suspected criminals – now cannot sell up without the permission of the Scottish courts.
Earlier this week, Solicitor General Lesley Thomson invited journalists to the Crown Office’s Glasgow office to highlight new figures showing that £8 million was seized from criminals in Scotland last year.
That figure included a confiscation order of more than £720,000 against restaurateur Kwai Fun Li after she used illegal workers in her outlets in Glasgow and Bishopbriggs, and an order of more than £200,000 against heroin dealer Mohammed Riaz.
Interestingly, Proceeds of Crime legislation allows prosecutors to go way beyond the financial penalties previously meted out.
In the case of Li, her criminal fine amounted to just £6,000. However, the act allows the authorities to go after those enjoying lifestyles out of keeping with the money they legally earn.
Those unable to prove they have a legal source of funds risk having to sell cars, homes and other spoils to satisfy the Crown.
The focus is now turning to overseas. As well as the operation in Spain, prosecutors have been liaising with magistrates in Rome and Dubai.
The money recovered is being put to good effect. Since 2003, the Proceeds of Crime Act has allowed more than £80m to be recovered from criminals. And since 2007 the money has been used to bankroll the Cashback for Communities scheme, which funds activities and opportunities for young people.
The latest figures don’t just include drug dealers and fraudsters. David Cochrane, a scrap metal merchant, was hit with a £41,000 confiscation order after being found guilty of illegally keeping and treating waste. Meanwhile, a nominal £1 confiscation order was made against Charles Swan, who was sentenced to eight months in prison for keeping animals in squalid conditions without adequate bedding or food. The order allows the Crown to obtain any assets Swan may accrue in the future.
According to the solicitor general, the combination of disruption and confiscation orders has been a “double whammy” for criminals operating in Scotland.
Now it seems that even those fleeing to the Spanish sun are not beyond the long arm of the law.