$1.5m ‘seized’ proceeds of crime still uncollected
Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley told MPs that $1.5 million in assets seized by a Supreme Court order as a result of the proceeds of crime remains uncollected.
The Confiscated Asset Fund stood at $780,000 as a result of seizures made within the past year. But the Minister said the $1.5 million order on “two certain cases” has been outstanding for up to ten years.
According to the Minister, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has been “invited to press their collection” as soon as possible.
Said Mr Dunkley: “Two certain cases were brought to my attention that were awarded in an open court in public, one was for over $900,000 and one was for over $600,000. This was a number of years ago, I think seven to ten years ago, I could be wrong.
“These funds haven’t been realised yet in spite of the mandate to get them in a certain period of time. With the support of my colleagues I invited the DPP to press their collection and where possible to use all the internal resources that Government has to realise the assets that are out there and keep the costs to the minimum while we do it.
“I’m keenly aware of the challenges presented by collecting and realising the assets of the proceeds of crime. While we push forward with this bill there was a very clear shortfall in our ability to collect these assets,” he said.
He stressed however, that “if the court awards something it must be collected and it must be collected on time”. Moving forward he added: “I’m very comfortable that the DPP will get on top of this and if we have to support it with legislative changes to make sure we can collect those assets; we will do that. But that’s about $1.5 million sitting out there that we need to collect and there’s probably more judgments that I’m not aware of at this time.”
Mr Dunkley said the debate “will probably galvanise people within the community to make applications to Government to use some of these funds”. And he was not concerned “about the kitty running dry”.
“The people can be assured that under the current Government the work will not stop. We will still go after those who want to break our rules and we will still do all we can to get the proceeds of crime in.”
And he dismissed Opposition concerns that the new legislation lacked clear guidelines on how the fund would be administered, regulated or dispensed to community organisations.
“Obviously if we want to help our community, if we want to bring certain communities out of the trials and tribulations they face because of what’s going on, we need to be able to have the leeway and the latitude to put these funds back into those communities.
“Members would be well aware that as we do work and help in one area we will face challenges in other areas. If you tie that parcel up too much you’re going to have to come back and make further legislative changes to give you the latitude to do what you need to do,” said Mr Dunkley.
“It’s clear members on the other side have been vehement in the last six months of scrutinising everything the Government’s done. I commend and applaud them for doing their job even though I don’t always agree with what they say.
“But in this case I am sure that if this Government steps out of line and awards funds to any sector of the community that they don’t deem acceptable they will make sure that they trumpet that calling; that’s what it’s all about.
He noted that applicants, including sports clubs “will always have to supply a clear list of how they are going to account for the money to the Government”. And they “will be encouraged to seek evidence of that support through their governing bodies”.
They would also have to go through the Department of Sports under Minister Wayne Scott. On that note he said the “checks and balances will work quite well as long as everybody’s accountable”.
He cited a number of initiatives “worthy” of funding in his view, including Flatts Victoria Club’s ongoing bid for a club house facility and Boulevard Blazers.
“There are a number of churches in highly impacted areas of violence, gang and drug activity that have very needy programmes to support and develop our youth. That would be something that I think would be a laudable application,” he added.
The Minister also cited helping agencies like the Eliza DoLittle Society and other food serving initiatives “helping families in our community” as applicants worth consideration.
But he said he “comforted to realise that members on both sides of the House agree that the amendment was “a most worthy initiative”.
“Instead of getting impeded by the fact that we would like a small amendment to tighten up the focus of it a little bit, we should look at the wider scope of it; the intent of what’s going to be done.
“I’m sure the Opposition can hold the Government accountable on anything that is dealt out of this Confiscated Assets Fund.”
He concluded: “In spite of the differences we might have we will work to re-energise the Bermuda that we want — a safer, healthier Bermuda.”