Chris Marshall: Recovering crooks’ cash needs work

Picture: Phil Wilinson
Picture: Phil Wilinson
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Earlier this year, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House warned his force was facing a £6 million shortfall after being let down by the much-vaunted Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca).

The legislation allows the courts to seize assets from criminals, and hand the money back to Police Scotland and the Scottish Government. Sir Stephen said it was “disappointing” that there was often a “degradation” between the money promised and the actual funds received.

There was further disappointment earlier this week with the news that serial fraudster Michael Voudouri is to pay back just over £200,000 of the £11.6m he earned through a complex VAT scam.

Voudouri, who became one of Britain’s “most wanted” after fleeing to Cyprus to avoid a jail term, is currently serving an 11-year prison sentence.

He was jailed for ten years last June for charges relating to what the judge, Lord Tyre, described as a “complex money-laundering operation”. He was also jailed for an additional 18 months for failing to appear in court in 2012.

But despite laundering millions through bank accounts and private individuals, prosecutors have only been able to seize assets including designer watches and a modestly priced house.

Voudouri was made subject of a confiscation order for £207,339.34 – the entirety of his available assets.

Prosecutors are also still attempting to seize a £1m mansion in Bridge of Allan which relates to a previous fraud case Voudouri was involved in.

The Crown said the most recent order meant it could seize assets acquired by Voudouri in the future, up to the full amount of his illegal earnings.

But his case has led to calls for the Scottish Government to re-examine the Proceeds of Crime Act and whether it is working as well as it might.

The legislation has had some notable successes.

Margaret Paterson, who was jailed for five years in 2012 for running a prostitution racket, was ordered to pay back £1m in ill-gotten gains earlier this week. That’s £1m going back into community projects which would not otherwise have done so.

However, it remains to be seen how much of that money will find its way back into the public purse.

As noted by Police Scotland earlier in the year, the final sum received can be significantly smaller than the initial court order, often tens of thousands rather than the predicted hundreds of thousands is what gets through.

It remains to be seen exactly how much Voudouri will pay back, but what is certain is that it will be a fraction of what he stole. Too often in these cases the money seems to be impossible to trace and recover.