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Crime will pay. says AG

The House of Assembly has approved legislation giving greater powers to seize property obtained through illegal means.

Attorney General Mark Pettingill told the House the Proceeds of Crime Amendment (No 2) Act creates a new “civil cause of action” in the Supreme Court, allowing designated authorities to recover proceeds of crime laundered by international criminals.

“Until now there is precious little that we can do under such circumstances,” Mr Pettingill said. “There are instances where such persons are deceased, they may be escaped convicts or are languishing in prison for the rest of their lives.

“It is important to underscore the fact that no person will stand in jeopardy, nor is the recovery of illegitimate property a penalty against the person who holds the property. The justification for this new civil action is founded on the public interest.”

In the UK, around £4.6 million (or $7.4 million) in assets were recovered through civil recovery orders in 2012/12.

Mr Pettingill said any seized funds would be deposited in the Consolidated Assets Fund, which in turn helps to fund both the police service and various community programmes on the Island.

He said the legislation would help protect the Island's reputation as a hub of international business while reinforcing Bermuda's commitment to combat money laundering.

“The connection between our continuing reputation as a reliable and desirable financial jurisdiction in which to do business and the robustness of our regulatory environment is clear,” he said.

“In order to maintain our position in the global marketplace as a competitive jurisdiction, it is our responsibility to ensure there are mechanisms in place to prevent criminals and wrongdoers, wherever they may be, from using our financial system as a haven for their ill-gotten gains.”

Mr Pettingill stressed that the legislation also makes provisions for third parties who may suffer a loss due to the recovery process, and allows for all parties are given the opportunity to he beard by the Supreme Court, and appeal decisions made by that court.

“Another further protection included in this Bill is the requirement of a minimum threshold of value before proceedings can be instituted against property, thereby ensuring that this regime is not used to pursue trivial cases,” she added.

Shadow Attorney General Kim Wilson said that the opposition supported the legislation, describing it as a step in the right direction for the Island.

And, because of the civil nature of the legislation, she said it would allow police to seize assets as long as they can show it was obtained illegally, even if there is not enough evidence to charge someone.

“If the evidence or information says that a person owns property and that property itself was obtained through illicit means, it's a civil seizure of the property and not the person,” she said. “There's no sentencing of the person, there's no finding of his guilt.”

She however questioned how the seized property would be maintained, noting one experience as a lawyer in which she and her client went to retrieve a seized car only to find that a tree had grown through it.

She also asked if it was possible for someone to apply for legal aid when challenging a seizure in cases before the seizure itself takes place, noting a case in which the seized property was partially owned by an innocent third party.

Mr Pettingill said the issue of maintaining property was a policy matter, but acknowledged that Ms Wilson had made a legitimate point about legal aid, which he would take under advisement as the legislation continues to evolve.

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Published September 21, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 22, 2013 at 11:51 pm)

Crime will pay. says AG

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