Prime minister Tony Blair and home secretary David Blunkett announced the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) this week which will merge the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, the Home Office’s responsibilities for investigating organised illegal immigration and Customs and Excise’s powers to tackle serious drug trafficking and recovering related criminal assets.
SOCA is expected to take on some of the Excise’s draconian search and arrest powers and has led to speculation at Westminster that the remainder of the Customs’ tax responsibilities will be merged with the Inland Revenue who will then acquire similar investigative powers.
The new body will concentrate on serious organised crime such as gangs, drug trafficking, people smuggling, the vice trade and child and other pornography.
But it will also target the way organised criminals launder their money. It will work closely with Customs and Revenue to tackle revenue, tax and other financial fraud.
With a staff of almost 5,000 it will recruit accountants, other financial experts and IT specialists to combat the highly sophisticated financial and technological networks of organised crime and have its own team of specialist prosecutors answerable to the attorney general, working with investigations from start to finish.
Blunkett said SOCA would provide a streamlined and focussed approach to the problem and would have powers of arrest itself but would also provide information and intelligence to local police forces to act where necessary.
Its remit will be UK-wide.
Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins, a senior member of the Commons Treasury Committee, said: ‘I welcome this new body provided it is properly resourced with new money from the chancellor and recruits enough forensic accountants to trail the money made by organised crime through the laundering process and recover it.’
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