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In the run-up to this election, one of the best sound bites of the last election – “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” – was coming under scrutiny as a potential embarrassment to the Government. White-collar and other crime affecting the business community has not been a high priority, with no major legislative initiatives and resources devoted to its detection so low that many police forces have disbanded their fraud squads. Late into the last Parliament the Government appears to be changing its stance. In particular, the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill, recently issued by the Home Office for consultation, seeks to give a respectable boost to the fight against all acquisitive crime, including those committed in a business context. The consultation document proposes radical changes that would stop crime from being as lucrative. The thrust of the proposed legislation is to promote the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. Reforms are proposed to the arrangements for criminal confiscation, including increased resources and a dedicated agency for recovery: the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency (Cara). A category of criminal confiscation is introduced, to cover all property held by people with a “criminal lifestyle” that they cannot prove to have acquired innocently. New arrangements for civil confiscation are proposed, which will allow confiscation where a criminal conviction has not been obtained, using the lower standard of proof appropriate to civil actions. If this does not result in the removal of unaccountable funds, the director of Cara will have the option of raising tax, including penalties, where gains are reasonably suspected to arise from criminal activities and tax has not yet been paid. Money laundering legislation is to be tidied up, to prevent the safe use of proceeds of crime more effectively.

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