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Combating Organised Crime in the 21st Century
 
March 2, 2005
Sofia

Speech of Ms. Caroline Flint, Under-Secretary of State for Drugs Co-ordination, Organised Crime and European issues at the UK Home Office


Introduction

Good morning. I'd like to thank Mr Kotsev and the Centre for the Study of Democracy for inviting me to speak at this important conference, and for the warm hospitality of the Bulgarian Government in hosting my visit.

This conference is an excellent opportunity to share what we have learnt, to invite discussion on the way forward, and to restate our joint commitment to defeating organised crime and corruption. I'm extremely encouraged to see so many experts here today.

The challenge

The challenge we face is huge, and constantly shifting. In the UK alone, organised crime costs our communities and the economy over £20 billion (30 billion Euros) per year.

The damage reaches right into every neighbourhood. Honest businesses are cheated of their profits through the supply of counterfeit goods. Drug users spread their misery by robbing innocent people to pay for their habit. One kilo of trafficked heroin sold on our streets can create 220 victims of burglary. Human trafficking creates a desperate cycle of prostitution, violence and theft, which undermines our communities. Left unchallenged, the harm is set to grow.

Bulgaria and UK Government co-operation

Bulgaria is a key European ally in the fight against organised crime and trafficking. Bulgaria's geographical location make it an increasingly attractive place for foreign investors - including British property buyers searching for sunnier climes on the Black Sea coast.

But the country's location on the Balkan route also lends itself to other less welcome enterprises. Bulgaria is one of the main transit countries for illegal drugs entering the UK. People smugglers and human traffickers pose a threat too. For these reasons alone, our two countries have already established a healthy and fruitful working relationship. Our two countries have a solid foundation of joint working to build on.

Yesterday I visited the National Drugs Intelligence Unit, set up in October last year to promote sharing of intelligence on drugs related crime between key law enforcement agencies. Adopting a dynamic, multi-agency approach to tackling these issues is crucial. I'm very encouraged by what I saw yesterday.

I'm also pleased to hear about the 'hotline' that has been set up within the Ministry of Interior for reporting corrupt activity, and the nationwide publicity campaign on the dangers of corrupt behaviour, both of which have come out of our Twinning project on anti-corruption in the Interior Ministry in Bulgaria. We welcome the Bulgarian government's commitment to tackling this issue.

Corruption is not only a crime in itself but, if it is allowed to take hold in law enforcement authorities, it obstructs the investigation and prosecution of other crimes. Our own experience shows that the fight against this sort of corruption has to be ruthless, with zero tolerance, and at strong lead from the top.

An effective fight against organised crime also requires a strong and efficient judicial system, capable of bringing perpetrators to justice. Cooperation between investigators and prosecutors is a key part of this. I very much welcome efforts to address these issues through the planned Penal Procedural Code.

Centre for the Study of Democracy

I am keen for us to learn from the advanced thinking of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, with whom our Embassy has a number of projects in the JHA field. The Centre has already recognised that, in some key respects, organised criminals act like any other business. This approach is shown in many of your projects, such as the Informal Economy Index, which identifies the most vulnerable areas of the economy; and the Corruption Monitoring System, which tracks the dynamics of corrupt behaviour.

In the UK this kind of innovative thinking has already informed our own strategy and we have much to gain from sharing our knowledge and expertise in these areas.

Our strategy

I would like to take this opportunity to explain more about our strategy, and what we in the UK have set out to achieve. Last spring, we launched "One Step Ahead", our radical and dramatically different new approach to defeating organised crime.

There are three elements to our attack.

First, we are creating the Serious Organised Crime Agency. This will be a powerful new law enforcement organisation, bringing together world-class experts from different enforcement backgrounds. It is set to start business in April 2006.

The new Agency will depend on effective partnership working among law enforcement agencies at all levels, from local police to international partners such as those here in Bulgaria. I am very pleased that the Director General designate of the new Agency, Bill Hughes, is here today to outline his vision of the operational side of the fight against organised crime.

New powers

Secondly, our strategy sets out new powers in law to disrupt criminal activity and convict those responsible. Like legitimate businesses, criminals trade where the laws are at their most liberal and relaxed. They avoid markets where the framework of law is too tough and demanding. That is one of the reasons why our strategy focused so heavily on the law and its effective and robust implementation.

We in the UK are taking a power to compel co-operation with investigators. This will mean that suspects and their associates will have to surrender relevant documents to investigators when they are requested.

We are also securing powers to encourage defendants to testify against their criminal colleagues by providing incentives such as sentence reductions.

There will be tough new licence conditions for convicted organised criminals after they are released; for example, scrutiny of their finances, backed up with tighter restrictions on who they associate with and where they travel.

Existing powers

Thirdly, we will make better, more strategic use of our existing powers, such as tax, immigration and planning laws. As part of this the Home Office is working to provide guidance on using immigration powers to disrupt the activities of serious criminals who are in the UK illegally.

Financial crime

Our strategy is about more than just high profile seizures and arrests. It's about hitting the criminals where it hurts -in their wallets. In the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 we took new powers to claw back the profits of criminal activities, and plough them into law enforcement.

I am very pleased that asset confiscation legislation has recently been passed in Bulgaria. This is a very important step forward. It's encouraging that UK experts were able to provide help and guidance to the Interior Ministry and parliamentarians in the formative stages of the law.

The challenge now for Bulgaria will be to ensure that the legislation is implemented vigorously, so that it becomes a genuinely effective weapon in the fight against organised crime.

Under our own Act we set up the Assets Recovery Agency, the first national agency dedicated to investigating and recovering criminal assets. We also introduced a civil recovery scheme to recover the proceeds of unlawful conduct in cases where criminal prosecution cannot be brought.

We took powers to tax an individual or business where income, profit or gain is suspected of being derived from crime. And last year we also announced a new incentive scheme for the police, allowing them to keep a direct share of all assets recovered.

We are making very encouraging progress. We recovered £47 million (nearly 70 million Euros) of criminal proceeds 2002-03 and £54.5 million (just under 80 million Euros) last financial year. And it gets better. We are on track to recover £80 million (115 million Euros) this year.

Wider EU co-operation

Close co-operation within the EU has allowed us to build on our successes so far. The UK has been one of the EU member states most prominent in championing enlargement. We very much look forward to continuing to work closely with Bulgaria as a fellow member state.

The test for joining the EU - the acquis communitaire - is tough and rightly so. To join the EU is to give a full commitment to meeting the acquis, not just as part of the membership package but as part of a continuing process of modernisation and improvement, particularly in areas such as tackling organised crime and corruption. We are glad to have had the chance to work with you in tackling these issues. For example David Wolstenholme's work on the project, which has resulted in a new Regulation on the fight against corruption. The Twinning project has made encouraging progress but there is more to be done.

This will require continuing high level commitment on the part of the Bulgarian Government in the years to come.

Conclusion

I'm confident that we have a solid basis on which to build. Thank you again for inviting me here to speak today. I'm looking forward to hearing the views of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, and everyone else in this room, and to working in closer partnership with Bulgaria to defeat organised crime.
 
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