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Serious Fraud Office

Oral Answers to Questions — Solicitor-General – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 2nd April 2009.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire 10:30 am, 2nd April 2009

What use the Serious Fraud Office has made of money retained under proceeds of crime legislation in meeting its objectives in the last five years.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The SFO retains a share of funds recovered under the proceeds of crime legislation through the asset recovery incentivisation scheme. Following the Balfour Beatty judgment in October, £2.25 million was recovered and the SFO is due to receive about £1 million of that, which will be used to continue to fund its operations.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was introduced by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett, who now says that the legislation was

"intended to bankrupt those who made enormous amounts of money out of Criminal Behaviour."

How well does my hon. and learned Friend feel that that ambition has been realised, and what level of assets is being left for victims of crime to seek compensation via the civil recovery route?

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

My hon. Friend raises an important point. The SFO has had the powers to do civil recovery only since last April, and it has had to go through an accreditation process to facilitate that. Once again, however, he has put his finger on the point: compensation to victims takes priority over assets recovery, and in cases pursued by the SFO, almost always the real intention is to get the money back into the hands it is being defrauded from. I have no doubt that more can be done, however, to make effective use of the Proceeds of Crime Act, and I know that efforts are being made in the SFO in particular to ensure that that does follow.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

But is it not the case that for every crime committed, all of society suffers? In particular, there is the huge cost of feeding, housing and guarding criminals. Will the Solicitor-General consider extending or perhaps reviewing existing legislation to ensure that wealthier criminals actually pay for their time when they are in prison?

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

That is a very interesting point and I shall spend a lot of time dwelling on it over Easter, although it is not actually the responsibility of my department.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General

What steps is the Solicitor-General taking to address the serious deficiencies shown up in the SFO by the recent—I say recent, but it was nearly a year ago now—de Grazia report, and will she respond to the letter I sent to her about this more than six weeks ago?

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

The hon. Gentleman really ought to look back at the answer I gave him the last couple of times he raised this issue. The de Grazia report was a considerable time ago now and, as he knows, Richard Alderman has come in and made significant management changes that we are confident will take the matter forward. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman asks what they are, but I have told him a million times. He always asks me the same question: he asks, "Aren't these changes a sign of deterioration?", and I say, "No, they are a sign of an improved management structure." He is most welcome to talk to Richard Alderman himself.

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