Success for Proceeds of Crime Act but there could be trouble ahead
Police and prosecution lawyers could hardly contain their sense of satisfaction last week after securing a £750,000 confiscation order against a big drug dealer.
Sean Lynch, 49, lost his liberty when he was jailed for 18 years in 2008 and stands to lose a substantial chunk of his personal wealth: the house on a gated estate in Surrey, two properties in Spain and the collection of cars — a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, a Mercedes, a Rolls-Royce, a BMW, a Land Rover and an American police car.
“It is really rewarding to see criminals being stripped of profits they have gained through their criminal lifestyle,” said Neil Sweet, the senior prosecutor.
“The Proceeds of Crime Act is a powerful tool and we remain committed to using it to further punish criminals who benefit from others’ misfortune.”
Detective Inspector Gary Burn of Surrey Police went further: “This man was living the high life from his criminal lifestyle. Not only have we stopped him with a jail sentence, but now we have taken the profit from him as well. This confiscation order should send out a clear warning to criminals that crime does not pay and that whatever your lifestyle, however big you think you are, we will pursue you through both criminal and civil courts.”
If Lynch does not pay the money within six months he will face an additional four years in jail. Should further assets be discovered he could be made to forfeit another £250,000.
Lynch was arrested after a major investigation in which drugs worth £600,000 — including cocaine, amphetamine, cannabis and MDMA — were seized. He had no formal occupation and no investments and police were convinced that his luxurious lifestyle was financed by years of drug trafficking. far beyond the scope of their investigation.
This is how the Proceeds of Crime Act is supposed to work. But it is also marked by quirks and catastrophes that, observers fear, will become more frequent as its powers are extended to local councils and quangos.
A pharmacist convicted of making false prescription claims and unlawfully obtaining £464 was subjected to a confiscation order for £212,000 because he was presumed to be a career criminal. The Court of Appeal quashed the order last year as an abuse of process but a judgment in another case since then has said that it is not for the courts to amend laws passed by Parliament.
Another case highlights the potential unfairness of restraining a suspect’s assets. A businessman accused of VAT fraud wanted to commission a forensic accountant’s report which he believed would show he was innocent. He could not pay for one himself because his bank accounts had been frozen and he was denied Legal Aid. He was subsequently convicted.
A convicted drug dealer, however, was able to keep his £4.5 million fortune because he could not find a barrister to represent him for the £175 per day standard fee in a complex case. The man’s assets had been frozen and he could not pay for his own lawyers. He applied for legal aid but 30 barristers turned down the case because the fees were so low. The man represented himself and had the confiscation order set aside on the grounds that he could not get legal representation.
Sean O’Neill: Analysis