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Recovering ill-gotten gains

THE first incarnation of the Proceeds of Crime Act was seen in Ireland, as the Garda fought to control the power and influence of drug racketeers in Dublin.

Like now, back then it was hailed as the best way of hitting the leaders of the underworld where it would hurt the most: their pockets.

The creation of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was prompted by the murder of crime reporter Veronica Guerin in 1996. Gangster John Traynor, known as "The Coach", fled Ireland soon after Guerin was shot dead while stopped at traffic lights on the outskirts of Dublin.

Traynor was later named in court by underworld associate and drug trafficker John Gilligan as the man who ordered the journalist's killing.

Guerin's death sparked outrage and the Irish parliament brought in the CAB to tackle the increasing levels of serious organised crime in the country. Scotland and the rest of the UK began to look across the Irish Sea at the success of the new legislation in disrupting gangland activities.

In 2002, the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca) was introduced in Scotland.

Scottish politicians and police officers spoke about ending the status of "Mr Bigs" as negative community role models, who drove flash cars but never did an honest day's work.

The new legislation allowed police and prosecutors to freeze, seize and ultimately confiscate the ill-gotten gains of drugs barons and criminals.

Since 2007, the Crown Office has taken more than £40 million under the Act through civil and criminal recovery procedures.

Almost all funds raised through Poca have gone to good causes in communities.

The first major haul for Poca in Scotland came when the Crown seized £1.3m from Michael Voudouri, of Bridge of Allan. Voudouri was jailed for four years for a £3m VAT evasion in 2006.

In 2010, Christopher Cummins of Glasgow had more than £200,000 taken from him, after police investigating a drugs ring found cash in his car. Cummins was pulled over during the Strathclyde Police operation and failed to explain to officers why he had £200,191.75 in his possession. He was ordered to forfeit the full amount to the Crown.

Two criminals once dubbed Scotland's most wanted couple had almost £1m seized from them in 2011. Anthony Kearney and Donna McCafferty escaped to Spain's Costa Blanca when police started looking into their activities, but they were caught and extradited to Scotland.

Kearney, who admitted a money-laundering offence as well as three charges of housing benefit fraud, was sentenced to two years in prison. McCafferty was ordered to carry out 250 hours of community service after pleading guilty to benefit fraud at Glasgow Sheriff Court in December 2009.

Separate proceedings were later raised under proceeds of crime legislation and Kearney was ordered to pay £930,362.75 and McCafferty £13,003.25.

Earlier this month, notorious crime boss Eddie Lyons, 53, had £75,000 worth of assets seized under proceeds of crime laws after racking up £259,000 in mortgage frauds.

He also admitted being involved in the transfer of criminal property after using some of the money he made through the frauds to give his daughter, Ashley Lyons, a gift of £30,000.

The gangster was sentenced in April 2010 to 300 hours' community service for the offences.

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