A POLICE unit that tracks down criminals who flee overseas to avoid justice has arrested 71 people since it was launched nine months ago, officers have revealed.
The majority tackled by Police Scotland’s fugitive unit have been in Scotland and wanted by other countries.
However, officers have also brought seven people back to Scotland to face justice for crimes allegedly committed here.
Police said investigations have covered every continent and arrests have been made in Kenya, India and the Dominican Republic, as well as Europe. Those arrested include Allan Smith, 45, who was traced in the Netherlands last month, having fled to Greece on the eve of his trial in 2008.
Smith had admitted being involved in the supply of heroin worth £700,000 and money laundering.
He was in possession of £49,000 of heroin when arrested in Glasgow in 2007. He is now back in custody and due to be sentenced next month.
However, Michael Voudouri, who has been described as Scotland’s most wanted man after admitting laundering £11.5 million, remains at large.
Voudouri was involved in a complicated international “carousel” fraud, which took place in many countries. He pled guilty but left Scotland before he could be sentenced.
The Crown Office said steps are being taken to bring him back from his Cyprus hideout.
The 71 arrests have been in connection with crimes including sex offences. So far, there have been no offences for homicides.
Assistant Chief Constable Ruaridh Nicholson, of Police Scotland, said: “It’s really successful and a real focus on individuals who have evaded capture.
“We are using technology, we are using a whole range of different techniques.
“We are focused on high-level crime – it depends on the circumstances of the case. But we are talking about serious sex offenders, bringing them back to face justice in our society.”
Police would not comment on the techniques being used, but it is understood that some are similar to those used to tackle the growing threat of cyber crime – tracing individuals’ activities online.
Both the Voudouri fraud case and the work of the fugitive unit are indicative of the increasingly international nature of crimefighting.
Police have also been trying to trace murder suspects William Paterson, 33, and Derek McGraw Ferguson, 48, in Spain, in recent years.
Crimestoppers launched a new appeal in September, saying the pair could be in Malaga.
Victim Support Scotland has pushed for a more international approach to supporting victims, with concerns that the experience differs from country to country.
A spokesman said: “We want victims of crime to be treated to a reasonable standard in whichever country an offence occurs, and obviously cross-border cooperation is a crucial part of that.
“It means people who in the past might have escaped justice will be captured wherever they go.
“It’s all very positive stuff for victims.”
It emerged at a recent policing conference that 50 arrests had been made by the fugitive unit, and that figure has risen to 71 in a matter of weeks.
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House outlined his hopes for the unit when details were revealed in Scotland on Sunday’s sister paper The Scotsman a year ago.
He said he wanted to make Scotland a more hostile place for criminals, particularly the most harmful members of serious and organised crime gangs.
Sir Stephen has also previously spoken out about plans to set up a Europe-wide serious and organised crime squad in co-operation with Europol.
Prosecutors have also welcomed the work being carried out by police to bring fugitives to justice.
A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “We welcome the early successes of the Fugitive and Extradition Unit.
“The specialists of the Crown Office’s International Co-Operation Unit will continue to provide them with training and advice, and by working together we will ensure that fugitive offenders are brought to face justice in the country where the impact of their criminal conduct is most keenly felt.”
He admitted they had so far been unable to bring Voudouri back.
The spokesman added: “Michael Voudouri failed to appear for sentencing and a warrant has been granted for his apprehension.
“Steps are being taken to enforce the warrant.”