Prosecutors aim to seize drug dealers' £3m assets

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DRUG dealers in the Lothians are set to be chased for more than £3 million in ill-gotten gains.

The moves by prosecutors to recover the profits of crime, comes a day after police revealed they had smashed a gang of suspected cocaine traffickers living "Champagne lifestyles".

Officers arrested 21 men during a series of raids at homes across the Capital yesterday aimed at rounding up the members of an alleged cocaine dealing network.

More than 100 officers took part in the raids at the end of the year-long Operation Deliver which saw the city drugs squad target the gang through intelligence gathering and surveillance.

Its members are alleged to have lived "lavishly as their neighbours struggled to make ends meet", buying expensive vehicles and designer clothes.

Police chiefs said the gang included "key players" in the city's drug trade and some face money laundering charges for trying to "clean" their vast profits.

The force today revealed that operations against drug peddlers last year identified a total of 3,068,706 of assets allegedly acquired through crime.

A report has been sent to the procurator fiscal who can now move to have the assets, which include bank accounts, property and cars, seized in court through the Proceeds of Crime Act. Officers also said that 240,067 in cash taken from the dealers had already been confiscated.

Yesterday's raids saw 20 homes targeted by officers wearing body armour who swooped on the addresses across Edinburgh.

Homes in the Bingham area were among those hit, although police remained tight-lipped about other locations targeted before the accused appeared in court today to face a mixture of drug dealing and money laundering charges.

A sizeable quantity of cocaine was recovered during the raids.

Assessments carried out by detectives are believed to have indicated that the alleged gang, most of whom are in their early 20s, may have had access to firearms.

Police said the alleged drug network was not connected to the gangs from the Inch/Gilmerton and Granton/Rosyton areas who are involved in a violent feud.

Detective Superintendent David Bullen, who led yesterday's crackdown, said: "These searches across Edinburgh were part of our ongoing work to tackle serious organised crime."

He added that cocaine was becoming increasingly available in Edinburgh and gangsters were moving in to profit from the expanding market.

He said:"We are committed to not only ensuring these groups are jailed for trafficking in drugs, but that we seize the assets they acquired from it."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill visited the force's HQ at Fettes yesterday to be briefed by detectives on the operation.

Yesterday, the Evening News revealed that the amount of heroin and cocaine seized in the Lothians more than doubled in a year with 2.1m of Class A drugs seized between April and December.