The State Government will launch a fresh assault on drug traffickers with new laws giving police greater powers to seize their assets. Planned amendments to legislation will allow assets such as property or cars controlled by the targeted criminal, but used by another person, to be seized.
Attorney-General Michael Atkinson said that under proposed laws to be introduced early next year, the Government would be able to "declare" a person a drug trafficker. "Once declared traffickers, they can have their assets seized," he said.
"These laws are not restricted to direct proceeds of crime, but extend to assets controlled by a declared drug trafficker."
Essentially, this would mean assets including houses, cars, boats or bank accounts in the name of a spouse, partner or child of a declared person, but still ultimately controlled by them, could also be seized.
While the details of the new laws are still being drafted, it is anticipated a person would need to have three serious convictions for drug offences, such as trafficking or dealing, to meet the declaration criteria.
The new laws would be similar to existing laws in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, where the declared drug trafficker provision already exists.
The State Government last amended the confiscation-of-assets legislation in April 2006, giving police enhanced laws to tackle organised crime figures.
Under those changes, police now only have to prove on the balance of probabilities that a crime has been committed.
Previously, a person had to be convicted of a crime before their assets could be seized.
Latest available police figures show that in the 2007/08 financial year, property worth $11.7 million was "restrained" and another $2.29 million in property was forfeited.
Confiscation of Assets Section detectives finalised another 62 forfeiture orders, while another 33 restraint orders were still in place pending finalisation of cases.
Several of the larger finalised cases last financial year involved:
FORFEITURE of $336,000 in cash as a result of a methamphetamines seizure.
PAYMENT of $280,000 in lieu of a property seizure and forfeiture of $130,000 in cash as a result of a cannabis cultivation investigation.
PAYMENT of $227,000 in lieu of property seizure after a couple was convicted of cultivating 99 cannabis plants.
Confiscation Section Detective Sergeant Wolf Koenig said that during the 12-month period, 242 cases had been assessed.
While there was no threshold for confiscation proceedings to be launched, Det Sgt Koenig said cases were carefully assessed.
"We put our resources into where we are going to have the most effect," he said.
"The figures reflect a reasonable degree of success.
"The challenge for us is to predict what organised criminals are going to do with their money and assets, try and pre-empt that, locate it and attack it".
Det-Sgt Koenig said while his section had little direct contact with those subject to confiscation proceedings, they received feedback from prosecution lawyers involved in the process.
"Clearly they ( the criminals ) are not happy with us taking away the fruits of their crime," he said.
"Our aim is not only to attack the proceeds and benefits of crime, but we also take away the motive for committing the crime and undermine their ability to finance further crimes".
The section also works closely with all police specialist investigation branches and has become involved in most organised crime investigations.
Author: Nigel Hunt
Pubdate: Sun, 09 Nov 2008
Source: Advertiser, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2008 Advertiser Newspapers Ltd