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Crown Office rules out taking share of crime 'dirty money'

PROSECUTORS have ruled out a move to ask for a share of Proceeds of Crime cash as one of the country's law officers said it could never be guaranteed as a source of income.

The Crown Office passes all the so-called"dirty money" it raises to the Scottish Government, which until now has spent it on schemes to support communities most affected by offending.

However, as The Herald revealed last month, Police Scotland is seeking £16 million over the next two years from the money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca) to help plug its funding gap for the next two years.

Scotland's Solicitor General, Lesley Thomson, stressed the Crown would not be following suit. She said: "We don't have any say on how the money is spent and we would not anticipate being in the position of seeking any share of it in years going forward, certainly not as long as I am a law officer."

The police's bid for £16m over two years roughly matches the entire current income from Poca. In 2013-14, receipts totalled £8m, down from £12m.

The figure tends to vary, Ms Thomson stressed. "You can never guarantee Poca as a source of income," she said. But she welcomed the police bid as a "very positive statement that they intend to increase the assets they are bringing in".

She added the current Poca spending scheme, CashBack for Communities, that backs projects such as sporting clubs for youths in deprived neighbourhoods, would always get priority.

She said: "The police are only able to make a bid for any share of funding to the cabinet secretary if the Poca money reaches a certain level.

"CashBack for Comm is what will take place first."

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has long championed a "gangster tax" to help fund policing.

Sir Stephen once said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had a "mental block" on the issue amid concerns that letting police chase cash for their own funding could create inappropriate incentives.

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson, a former senior officer dealing with gangsters, has warned of a potential moral hazard if police are perceived to target criminals because they are rich.

Senior law enforcement insiders, meanwhile, have long seen Poca as a key element of their disruption tactics. Poca actions put pressure on organise criminals long before they have to pay out. Indeed, in civil and criminal proceedings they often settle out of court.

Ms Thomson has seen what she terms "ashen faces" of organised crime figures as they realise they are about to lose their lifestyles under a Poca action. But the trouble does not begin when they have to hand over their cash or assets. As soon as court action begins, she said, they are "seen by their associates as being law enforcement targets, which removes their status, their reputation".

She added: "People don't want to deal with them. They become toxic behind the scenes. They are tainted the minute our processes start and we get that info anecdotally. It is a loss of face."

A potential Poca loss, for example, makes a crime group a bad credit risk. It makes it harder for crime groups to do business.

Ms Thomson cited surveillance evidence. Police, she said, had overheard one gangland figure say he wanted to show that he was "on the bones of his a***". Ms Thomson added: "He changed from a fairly high-spec motor vehicle down a much older one. None of it did any good in that case."

Last week, it was revealed prosecutors had frozen four villas in a single cul-de-sac in Spain. Gangsters do not want to lose their homes. The reputational and practical blow to their operations are huge. Ms Thomson said: "You target homes which tend to be a fortress for your organised crime group. If that goes, you have to downgrade, move area, kids have got to change schools. It's all a reduction in the way of life."

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