Pubdate: Sun, 12 Apr 1998
Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Contact:   Yvonne Ridley

DRUG BARONS' HOMES MAY BE CONFISCATED

DRUG barons and organised crime bosses face having their homes, cars and
other assets including bank accounts confiscated by the courts even though
they may never have been prosecuted.

Jack Straw, the home secretary, is reviewing the laws of confiscation to
find ways of hitting suspected criminals against whom police have been
unable to collect sufficient evidence for a normal arrest. The measures
will be targeted on the masterminds behind crime gangs rather than minor
wrongdoers. A prime aim will be to stop them from using their gains to fund
further crimes.

The proposal is certain to prove controversial with civil liberties groups
because it will undermine the basic legal principle that suspects must be
found guilty by a jury before they can be punished.

The plans follow the increasing frustration of both the Home Office and
senior poice chiefs at the difficulties of pursuing sophisticated big-time
criminals who continually flout the law yet escape conviction.

Existing laws enable drug money to be confiscated only when a criminal has
been found guilty in a criminal court and as long as the proof is beyond
reasonable doubt.

Under the proposed new system, the police would be able to apply to the
civil courts, asking them to decide if a suspected criminal's wealth had
been earned honestly. If not, the court would be empowered to confiscate
all their assets.

In a gesture to the likely outcry from civil rights groups, Straw has
rejected an even more stringent scheme adopted in parts of America, where
individuals can be obliged to prove their wealth has not evolved from crime.

Ian Cawsey, Labour MP for Brigg and Goole, and a former police authority
chairman, welcomed the moves. "I have experienced first hand the police
frustration of knowing who the criminals are, but without having the
evidence and not having the power to do much."

The inadequacy of existing legislation was highlighted in a recent police
report from Bob Pattison, a Northumbria police superintendent, who
described the case of a suspected drug baron who lived in a council house
and owned three Porsches but who was "virtually untouchable".

* Britain is being flooded by heroin grown with the collaboration of the
Muslim fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan, writes Nick Rufford.

New figures to be released on Tuesday will show that customs officers
seized record amounts of heroin last year. The hauls were worth 150m and
95% is thought to have originated in Afghanistan.

Two thirds of the country is under the control of the Taliban, which has
encouraged farmers to grow opium poppies as a cash crop, say customs
officers.