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SFO to handle criminal asset seizures

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

2 May 2005

Media statement

SFO to handle criminal asset seizures

The Serious Fraud Office will handle asset recovery work under new Proceeds of Crime legislation to be introduced by the government, Justice Minister Phil Goff announced today.

The legislation will establish a civil forfeiture regime that will allow the state to confiscate assets determined by the Court to represent the proceeds of crime on civil court standards of balance of probability, without having to secure a criminal conviction.

"International evidence suggests that asset forfeiture that is not dependent on criminal convictions is a crucial part of tackling organised crime by targeting its profits and asset base," Mr Goff said.

"That requires a high level of forensic accounting skills; in-depth knowledge of techniques used to conceal money; the ability to reconstruct the financial affairs of individuals; specialist investigative expertise in dealing with serious or complex finance fraud, and strong links with other law enforcement agencies.

"At the centre of the new legislation will be the creation of an asset recovery body, involving an estimated 20 staff, within the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to target and track the wealth of organised crime bosses.

"SFO staff possess the relevant skills, and their existing links to other agencies mean they can draw on a wide array of complementary skills and experience to enhance their own expertise.

"Overseas experience shows that most criminals, once they have had their assets restrained, prefer to reach a settlement with the asset recovery body before their case goes to court. That benefits the taxpayer because assets are surrendered without the need for costly court proceedings.

"However it is critical that no connection can be drawn between the civil process and any decisions Police might make over laying criminal charges. Convicting criminals and putting them behind bars remains the top priority.

"Asset recovery work must not seen as diluting the Police's focus on crime by competing against criminal investigations or prosecutions for resources or priority.

"Fully utilising police intelligence and knowledge will be essential in ensuring the asset recovery body is as effective as possible, however. Therefore the asset recovery body and other relevant agencies will establish a forum to ensure there is the greatest possible inter-agency coordination on issues such as information sharing and staff secondments," Mr Goff said.

ENDS

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