PROSECUTORS will seek to bankrupt suspected criminals they defeat in civil Proceeds Of Crime Actions.

The Crown Office has promised to chase its court expenses - often running to the tens of thousands of pounds - from those who lose challenges against recovery orders that strip them of dirty money on the "balance of probabilities".

Its elite Civil Recovery Unit (CRU) believes such expense demands, especially if they result in formal sequestration, will deliver serious blows to those suspected of being behind serious and organised crime and its front companies.

Loading article content

The CRU, as revealed by The Herald yesterday, fought and won two important Court of Session asset recovery cases last year, including its January victory over credit card fraudster Brian Ellis. He was forced to surrender more than £105,000 from the proceeds of a house he bought under a fraudulent mortgage.

The Crown spends large sums taking on such cases - mostly because its main interest is disrupting criminality, not raising money. But any action for expenses would substantially add to the effective financial penalty paid by the subject of a recovery order.

Unit head Linda Hamilton said: "I have asked to make sure we are following up on expenses, which could be tens of thousands.

"If a party does not pay their expenses, we are then looking at sequestration. That is another element of disruption. If somebody at the end of all of this is sequestrated it is much harder for them to get a house or to do whatever it is they want to do.

"It is important to make sure we are seeking expenses in cases where these people have decided to defend them. We have won. They have come to proof and we have proved them. We should see them through."

The CRU, which published its annual report today, recorded its second highest haul of dirty money last year, £4.4million, more using its civil proof than the total amounted raised under criminal Proceeds Of Crime Actions cases.

Most of its cases are settled out of court or unchallenged by its targets.

"The majority of them settle," said Ms Hamilton. "That tends to be because a respondent basically says, 'Right, hands up, I want to do a deal because there is no defence, you have got me'.

"If you look at their finances on paper they have a job that pays £18,000. But look at their house and car and there is what we describe as a financial black hole. There is an opportunity for an explanation to be given. But usually the money has come from an unlawful source."

CRU lawyers, however, can spend years from the time they initially identify and freeze cash or assets before it can finally be handed over to the state.

This is also years that criminals or suspected criminals must devote their time and energy to a case, severely disrupting their activities and underlining to their criminal associates that they are on the radar of law enforcement.

Making them pay expenses - even forcing them into bankruptcy - is further disruption, according to Ms Hamilton.