26/09/2002

Government prepares blitz on organised crime

After a summer of concentrated violence, Security Minister Jane Kennedy has told delegates at a joint dinner of the Ulster Society of Chartered Accountants and Law Society of Northern Ireland in Newry that "organised crime poses a much greater threat to our society, than ever before".

The Security Minister was speaking at the second anniversary of the formation of the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF). Ms Kennedy also pledged to "to explore new ways and use whatever tools are available to confront the odious threat of organised crime, now and in the future".

She added: "Law-abiding members of society see criminals living beyond their lawful means and this has a corrosive effect on society and the community as a whole."

Money laundering is a central feature of all organised crime. In February 2000, the IMF estimated that the 'shadow economy' in the UK for the period 1996/1997 was worth approximately 13% of GDP. Globally, the IMF estimates that money laundering is valued at between 2% and 5% of the world's GDP.

However, the police now have greater powers to seize the assets of criminals following the introduction of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which gained Royal Assent last July. This Act gives authority for the establishment of the Assets Recovery Agency which will operate on a UK-wide basis but will, exceptionally, have a branch-office in Northern Ireland headed by an Assistant Director. The main function of the Agency will be to recover the assets which have been realised through criminal activity. The Assets Recovery Agency will open in early 2003.

The issue of crime is topping the NIO agenda at the moment, and on Tuesday Secretary of State John Reid convened the first meeting of the Law and Order Action Group.

The ministerial Action Group brings together the three NIO ministers – Dr Reid, Jane Kennedy and Des Browne, and the Attorney General Peter Goldsmith QC, and Rosie Winterton MP, the minister from the Lord Chancellor's Department. Also present at the meeting were the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde and the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Alasdair Fraser.

The purpose of the group is to ensure a coordinated approach to tackling every part of the crime spectrum and, as a consequence, work has already begun on undertaking a review of public order offences and investigating whether the bail system is working effectively.

(GMcG)

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