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Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill 1st Reading

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill passed its first reading in Parliament today.

The Bill toughens up the way that those who engage in criminal activity may have their assets confiscated by the Crown, Justice Minister Mark Burton said today.

The Bill will introduce a civil forfeiture regime for property and profits derived from significant criminal activity. The Bill, which will replace the Proceeds of Crime Act 1991, also provides for the Crown to confiscate property used to commit a crime.

"The new Bill targets the incidence and impact of organised crime. It will allow the authorities to strip criminal gangs of their assets and take away the profits of their actions. It will act both as a disincentive to criminals and disrupt their capacity to finance further criminal activity," Mark Burton said.

"Under the new legislation organised criminal gangs, particularly those involved in large-scale drug dealing, will not need to be caught for every crime that they commit. Criminals will instead need to prove their property was legally obtained," Mark Burton said.

The Serious Fraud Office will be able to seek a High Court order freezing a person's assets if it can show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person benefited either directly or indirectly from serious criminal activity. The SFO can then seek a forfeiture order through the courts to seize the frozen money or assets. The Crown will need to prove that, on the balance of probabilities, which is the civil standard of proof, a person has benefited from significant criminal activity, whether that offending was proven in a criminal court or not.

"The existing legislation allows the Crown to confiscate the profit made from crime after a person is convicted of that crime. However criminal gangs spread the profits of crime around," Mark Burton said.

"The new legislation will allow us to target other criminals along the chain, and in particular, those who live in lavish circumstances and direct the criminal offending of those further down the line.

"This will be the first time that New Zealand will have had such a regime. The approach is similar to that used in New South Wales, which has been highly successful in targeting the proceeds of crime.

"Overall, I am confident that the Bill will produce a fair but powerful weapon against crime", Mark Burton said. "It will also contribute to New Zealand's compliance with our international obligations. Over the last decade Australia, Canada, Ireland and the UK have introduced similar regimes. By establishing a civil forfeiture regime here, New Zealand will be able to work with these other countries to target criminal profits that are stored offshore."

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill replaces the Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill, which was withdrawn from the House in July 2006 in order to extend its scope. The introduction of the new bill allowed for inclusion of the international enforcement regime.

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