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28 April 2014, 13:59
Around £8 million has been seized from criminals in Scotland over the past year under proceeds of crime laws.
The Crown Office said assets worth £3.6 million were recovered through the courts in 2013/14 from criminals' illegal profits, while a further £4.4 million in assets were seized by the authorities using civil recovery measures.
The total figure was down from the £12 million netted the previous year from people involved in activities such as drug dealing, human trafficking and fraud.
But prosecutors pointed to the "marked increase'' in the use of disclosure notices used in civil recovery procedures and said more confiscation orders were imposed in 2013/14 than ever before.
Solicitor General Lesley Thomson QC said the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) has resulted in "serious disruption'' to criminals operating in Scotland.
"Those who attempt to build up criminal business are finding that we can wreck their ventures by ending their funding steams and their hopes of living off the profits of their crimes,'' she said.
"Any business needs profits to reinvest and grow. By targeting the revenue stream of those involved in illegal activity, we deprive them of the opportunity to build up criminal empires and in doing so we help to make Scotland a safer place.''
Among the cases of note dealt with in the last financial year was that of a businesswoman who was ordered to surrender more than £700,000 in cash and assets under proceeds of crime laws.
Kwai Fun Li, 46, of Bishopbriggs, East Dunbartonshire, was initially fined £6,000 for employing illegal immigrants at her Chinese restaurants between December 2009 and May 2010. But in subsequent confiscation proceedings, she was forced to hand over the six-figure sum after failing to account for how she was funding her illegal lifestyle, prosecutors said.
Another case centred around a Borders company which became the first in Scotland to be given a confiscation order for an environmental offence.
Scrap metal business David Cochrane (Duns) Ltd was fined £53,000 in June last year for illegally keeping and treating waste for 14 years and for failing to remove a quantity of mixed waste metals, liquid waste, tyres and batteries after being required to do so by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Crown Office said. A confiscation order for £41,000 was made against the company the previous month.
In a further case, a man jailed for mistreating puppies was hit with the first confiscation order in animal cruelty proceedings.
In March last year, Charles Swan, 68, from Stirling, was sentenced to eight months imprisonment after pleading guilty to contraventions of the Pet Animals Act and the Animal Health and Welfare Act.
Proceedings were raised against him under the Proceeds of Crime Act and the benefit from his criminal conduct was calculated at £12,340, the Crown Office said. At Falkirk Sheriff Court, a confiscation order for £1 was made against him after he was found to have no assets available to pay the full figure.
The Crown Office said this year's statistics show a marked increase in the use of civil recovery disclosure notices, which it described as a key investigative tool in the fight against people funding their lifestyles through crime. Some 280 notices were served between April 2013 and the end of March this year, up from 195 the previous year.
In addition, there were 166 criminal confiscation orders awarded in 2013/14 compared to 149 the previous year, officials said.
Ms Thomson added: "The combination of an increase in both disruption and confiscation orders is a double whammy for criminals operating in Scotland.
"Hundreds of them have felt the full force of POCA over the last year and it has destroyed their lifestyles and their activities.''
The Solicitor General also announced two new appointments within the Crown Office. Deborah Demick is the new head of the proceeds of crime unit and Linda Hamilton has been appointed head of civil recovery.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that since 2003, the use of the Proceeds of Crime Act in Scotland has allowed more than £80 million to be recovered from criminals.
"Today's figures demonstrate that the Proceeds of Crime Act continues to be an extremely powerful and effective tool in the fight against organised crime in Scotland,'' he added.