PROSECUTORS in Scotland ordered an entire street of Spanish villas to be “frozen” as part of a crackdown on the assets of organised criminals, it has emerged.
The Crown Office has begun liaising with magistrates based in Dubai, Rome and Madrid in an effort to disrupt criminals overseas under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Figures released yesterday showed the Crown had seized £8 million from perpetrators in Scotland last year using such powers.
Assets worth £3.6m were recovered through criminal trials, while a further £4.4m was seized using civil recovery measures.
The amounts include a confiscation order totalling more than £720,000 against a restaurateur who helped aid illegal immigration and an order of more than £200,000 made against a heroin dealer.
Officials said increasingly sophisticated methods were being used to track those with financial interests abroad. These include a street of houses being “restrained” – meaning they cannot be sold and could later be seized – at an unspecified location in Spain as part of an ongoing operation.
The Crown Office said there had also been a marked increase in the use of civil recovery disclosure notices, which compel those who may have amassed money and assets through unlawful means to attend an interview and account for them.
Solicitor General Lesley Thomson said: “POCA [Proceeds of Crime Act] has resulted in serious disruption to criminals operating in Scotland. Those who attempt to build up criminal business are finding that we can wreck their ventures by ending their funding streams and their hopes of living off the profits of their crimes.
“By targeting the revenue stream of those involved in illegal activity, we deprive them of the opportunity to build up criminal empires, and in doing so we help to make Scotland a safer place.”
As well as the increased use of disclosure notices, there were also more confiscation orders made in 2013-14 than ever before. Among the cases in the past year was that of Chinese restaurant owner Kwai Fun Li, who was fined £6,000 for illegally employing staff at her two Kings Lodge Buffet outlets in Glasgow and Bishopbriggs. She was later forced to hand over more than £720,000 under proceeds of crime proceedings after failing to account for how she funded her lifestyle.
In the largest single confiscation order made in the High Court, Mohammed Riaz was ordered to hand over more than £200,000 after being convicted of supplying heroin.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “We continue to put pressure on gangsters who seek to spread misery and fear.”
He said in many cases those targeted ran businesses which the “public would not necessarily consider as being linked with serious and organised crime”.
The total figure was down from the £12m netted the previous year from people involved in activities such as drug dealing, human trafficking and fraud.