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Almost every major city in the UK can lay claim to a “Crime family” some cities have more than one but their existence and indeed their apparent success relies upon the law enforcement culture that exists now as opposed to the “Rules of engagement” that police forces nationwide practised in the 1960/1970’s. In the current police culture everything has to be logged, recorded and transparent to the point where any crime boss could find out whatever they need to know about an ongoing investigation easily.
All that is required is enough fifty pound notes spread out to await collection or a “Brief”[Lawyer/Solicitor/Barrister] with the right sympathetic ear to the cause of a client. It is merely a question of determining the correct price for a commodity,
information. From that point on no informant is safe, no juror is beyond reach and no amount of solid evidence is ever secure. It is just a question of money.

Four years ago the Prime Minister of the UK amid a blaze of publicity announced that the “Proceeds” of crime, organised crime [e.g. The money amassed by the crime syndicates] would be targeted, recovered to be used to fight crime. The announcement incorporated the inception of a new unit of law enforcement with expertise drawn from the Police, Inland Revenue, the Treasury, the Stock Exchange, Customs and Excise, the Civil Service, Accountancy and several of the Security Services. It was to be an elite capable of operating internationally and numbered among its personnel representatives able to call upon resources in their countries of origin many of which were suffering the effects of international crime. The new unit was to be called The Assets Recovery Agency [ARA] and whilst its title was commercially orientated its intent was similar to the scenario that the FBI in 1920’s Chicago employed to bring an end to the web of corruption that protected Alfonse Capone for many years. The new unit cost in excess of 100 million to set up and maintain but if success was measured by how much was recovered then failure was not far from its door. In the four years it recovered just 13.8 million pounds with another 1.5 million expected to be recovered by end of 2005. The results from the unit were never as devastating to the crime families as they were intended to be and it was decided to shut it down. It has seized close to 90 million pounds worth of assets which as yet cannot be realised because much of it is the subject of legal challenges to its title or origin, to an extent it could be said that they were asked to do the job but no one supplied to tools to ensure that it could be done. To say that it will cease to exist is perhaps inaccurate because it is to be swallowed by yet another new unit of law enforcement a unit that holds more faith in the aims and objectives of the Asset Recovery Agency than its original founders. The new unit that wants to retain the function of “Asset Recovery” is The Serious Organised Crime Agency [SOCA] they see the work of the ARA as complimentary to achieving their aims and objectives because without the constant flow of illicit cash much of the power of the criminal gangs/families will diminish to proportions that can be dealt with. Whilst both agencies have/had the same objectives they both suffer from the same handicaps set in place by both the police codes of practise and the law of the land. Under “Normal” investigative procedures any information received has to be recorded along with its source, any contact with informants is carefully documented and any informant not only has a “Handler” but to ensure absolute fidelity a “Co-Handler”. The use of a third party however honest increases the risk of “Leakage” by at least 30% and increases the chance that an intended target will soon be privy to the details of an investigation.
In the courtroom legal process requires a certain level of disclosure by the prosecution to the defence which may or may not contain details of where a piece of information was secured, it is not uncommon for a prosecution to fold in circumstances of sudden amnesia brought about by a witnesses desire to stay healthy.
During the course of an investigation it is not unusual for a file on the intended prosecution of a suspect to cross several desks in several law enforcement agencies as well as a great deal of information being stored on computers. All of which could seriously compromise its security, there is a ready and waiting market for such details, which has become more lucrative in the past forty years.

Not long ago a case came to court where the case against the accused was presented by witnesses that were so protected by the police that some were relocated under the witness protection programme, some were allowed to give evidence by video link, some spoke from behind screens and through machines that disguised their voices and the jury was under 24 hour armed guard. The possibility that information would leak was such that the Police, the Court and the Crown Prosecution Service were aware that leakage would result in the death of witnesses. The case set precedents that had not been seen before in a UK courtroom and amid protestations from both the defence team and the defendants sentences amounting to two hundred years imprisonment were handed down. This was not a trial involving huge amounts of money nor did it involve any of the 400 major criminal empires known to operate in the UK. It involved the “Reign of terror” of two rival street gangs from Birmingham, Britain’s second city where people had been “Gunned down” on the streets.

The criminal enterprises that the ARA and now SOCA are targeting are much bigger and far more dangerous, some have assets, which are typically around 200 million and are engaged in alliances with world wide criminal interests. Their activities include people trafficking, gun running, drugs, alcohol and tobacco smuggling, art theft, identity theft, fraud on a massive scale and most is funded by money laundering operations.

Some of these criminal empires find their power bases in prostitution and drug smuggling but the “Raw material” they entrap is little more than a twenty first century slave trade with people frequently being bought and sold but they all have one thing in common, the unexplainable cash flow that is generated by such activities.

The cornerstone of these criminal interests is the financial strength they enjoy which is why SOCA needs to retain the expertise of the ARA but if SOCA is to be successful there must be a change in the way that informants are handled otherwise prosecutions will fail and serious criminals will walk and continue to think that they are above the law.

Many of the “Home grown” UK criminals are a serious case for concern but over the past twenty years the enlargement of the EEC has brought criminal gangs from Europe which have allied with the indigenous variety. The break up of the USSR exported the “Russian Mafia” to the UK and the drug culture has interposed Columbian/South American, Japanese and North Korean Triads upon the criminal multiculture. Whilst the inception of SOCA must be above reproach in its investigations it has to be accepted that in some cases “Normal Rules of engagement” may no longer apply. There is a case for the painstaking police work of legend that will “Always get their man” but there is increasingly a case for the “Unorthodox” approach and possibly clandestine too.
Whilst outwardly SOCA is a branch of the police service it is answerable to The Home Office but it is in essence a “National police force” and the nearest the UK has ever come to having its own version of the FBI. It is to be hoped that it will finally become an independent body so that it does not become the unwitting tool of politicians. The new body has a simple aim, “Follow the money” much of it has been squirreled away offshore and will be difficult to trace and almost impossible to seize.


Posted: February 14, 2007 

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