Professionals, including lawyers, accountants and financial advisers, who turn a blind eye to organised crime will face up to five years in prison under new legislation to be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech.
Hundreds of white collar professionals who help those involved in organised crime evade the law but are not directly involved in crimes will be targeted by police. The so called ‘crooks in suits’ help crime bosses set up their illegal businesses by writing contracts, arranging property purchases, offering advice or sending funds overseas. However, they generally avoid prosecution by adopting a ‘no questions asked’ approach and then later claiming they had no idea that they were involved in crime networks.
The crackdown will also tackle so called ‘Mr Bigs’ who often plan and co-ordinate crimes but avoid prosecution because they do not directly ‘get their hands dirty’.
The comprehensive ranging overhaul will be laid out in a Serious Crime Bill in the Queen’s Speech and is part of a concerted drive by ministers to dismantle Britain’s £24billion-a-year organised crime industry.
This new offence of participation in an organised crime group will allow police and prosecutors to take action against these individuals. The authorities will only have to prove there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect an individual knew they were helping carry out criminal activity. The measures will also target others who help gangs indirectly in the commission of crime such as by renting warehouse space, hiring vehicles or delivering packages.
Those convicted under the new offence would face a maximum of five years in custody. Ministers believe up to 200 people, including professionals such as lawyers and accountants could be convicted of the new offence per year.
Home Office minister Karen Bradley said:
“Nobody is above the law. But for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.
“This new offence sends out a clear message to those individuals – if you are helping to oil the wheels of organised crime, you will be prosecuted and face being jailed.”
Ministers will also increase available powers to prevent gang bosses holding onto their multi million pound gains due to flaws in the enforcement system. The moves will supplement prosecutors’ abilities to freeze assets and introduce prison sentences for offenders who hold onto their illegal profits. Assets will be allowed to be frozen earlier in investigations and the maximum time to pay confiscation orders will be increased from six to 12 months.
The proposed legislation comes following a highly critical report by the National Audit Office which found only 26p in every £100 generated by criminal activity was recovered by authorities and that £1.48billion is currently outstanding in unpaid confiscation orders.