Government policy is that crime should not pay and the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) is designed to ensure that no offender benefits from their activities.
Under POCA, anyone under investigation for, or who has been charged with, a criminal offence, is likely to be issued with a restraint order – freezing their bank accounts and other assets that may later be confiscated – while their finances are looked into, with potentially serious consequences for their family or business.
POCA also gives the authorities search and seizure powers in financial investigations into finances and the power to apply for production and disclosure orders, requiring people to answer questions, provide information or produce documents.
If someone is convicted of an offence, they then face confiscation of assets and possible money laundering charges. Even if a criminal prosecution is not possible, the Crown Prosecution Service may decide to take civil action to recover money that it believes comes from criminal activity.
By combining our legal expertise and experience with the advice of specialist accountants, we have successfully defended many POCA actions.
We can assist with applications to vary restraint orders, so that someone can access more of their assets and challenge prosecution evidence of a criminal lifestyle, which is required for a confiscation order, or seek to disprove arguments concerning the level of assets or the existence of hidden assets.
An example of our confiscation and restraint work
- R v C: C was arrested in 1991 in relation to the alleged importation of a tonne of cocaine from South America. On his arrest, approximately £2.5 million in cash was seized. C was acquitted of criminal offences and sought to recover the money, as it had been wrongly seized. He was then charged in relation to the importation of cannabis worth £14 million. As part of those proceedings, a High Court restraint order was placed on the seized money. The cannabis case collapsed and the return of the money was again sought. The newly created Assets Recovery Agency then sought to seize the money on the basis that it must have arisen from criminality. Another defendant in Holland counter-claimed for the money, alleging that it had derived from the initial cocaine importation with which he had been involved (but also acquitted) and that it was therefore available to him to settle an outstanding confiscation order made for other drugs offences committed in that jurisdiction. Defence evidence was called from Israel and Belgium to show the seized funds were legitimate and had arisen from international diamond dealing, not drugs.