Cashback for Communities eclipsed by legal aid to crooks. A RECENT Public Relations campaign by Scotland’s Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) to promote cash taken from criminals via the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) – has been blown out the water after it emerged convicted crooks are costing taxpayers more than what prosecutors claim is returned to communities in asset seizures.
Today, the Scottish Legal Aid Board have revealed yet another convicted criminal who recently featured in publicity surrounding cash seizures from crooks – actually received more in publicly funded legal aid for his defence – than amounts of crime cash prosecutors claimed he had been ordered by the courts to repay.
Information released in response to a Freedom of Information request revealed Margaret Paterson – the Edinburgh madam who made a fortune running a £1.2m prostitution racket and was hit with a crime cash payback order for £1million – actually received £144,802.50 taxpayer funded legal aid.
Her business partner – Robert Munro – who was hit with a crime cash payback order for £96,836 – received £147,370.12 of taxpayer funded legal aid – leaving public coffers £50K out of pocket
However, the true costs to taxpayers of the two cases referred to by the Legal Aid Board today may be significantly higher – according to a legal aid insider who told DOI earlier today: “factoring in legal aid, Crown Office legal fees, administration and court time, prosecution in the cases referred to are clearly over the £1million mark, so, there is in effect no cash back to communities from these cases.”
He described Proceeds of Crime figures as “little more than a myth which does not stand up to scrutiny when unbiased accounting is applied.”
The reality of Proceeds of Crime statistics and figures run counter to Press Releases and comments issued by Crown Office stars such as Lindsey Miller, Procurator Fiscal for Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism – who claimed after the court hearing on Munro & Patterson: “Today we have removed a vast amount of criminal earnings from organised crime groups operating right across Scotland.”
Miller went on to say: “These cases show the tenacity of law enforcement and prosecutors in pursuing the thing that is most important to criminals – their money.
In a Press Release from Police Scotland after the Proceeds of Crime orders against Paterson & Munro, Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Gray said: “These Confiscation Orders are some of the largest in Police Scotland’s history and they send out a very clear message to organised criminals everywhere that we will do everything in our power to ensure they do not benefit from illegal gains.”
However, with legal aid, costs of prosecutions and huge salaries of Crown Office admin & prosecutors, legal insiders are in little doubt regular announcements of Proceeds of Crime cash seizures now form part of manipulated crime statistics published by politicians in attempts to justify billions of pounds spent on what has become a justice industry for lawyers, prosecutors and the courts.
Other cases where Proceeds of Crime figures have fallen far short of reality have also emerged – such as jailed tax cheat Michael Voudouri.
Voudori, who fled to Cyprus in 2012 after admitting his guilt in an £11.6 million money laundering scam – claimed VAT on bogus transactions in what judges described as a “complex money laundering operation”, moving the money out of the country into foreign bank accounts.
He set up companies in the US and the British Virgin Islands to conceal the funds, before funnelling them back to Scotland to buy a house and fund a designer clothes business in Stirling.
Voudouri was eventually extradited back to Scotland where he is now in jail. He was also hit with a £207K Proceeds of Crime order in May 2015.
However, it was revealed Michael Voudouri has cost taxpayers over £600K in publicly funded legal aid.
Figures obtained from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) revealed legal teams working for Voudouri have been paid £509,000 since 2009 and £79,000 was handed out for his 2004 trial. The sums are almost certain to rise as further costs are still to be added.
SLAB said the money was paid out to his defence team and for lawyers’ expenses. A spokesman said: “When Michael Voudouri’s legal aid was granted, the courts decided whether to grant legal aid for applicants being seen in the High Court or by a sheriff sitting with a jury.
“Responsibility for granting legal aid for these matters transferred to SLAB in November 2010 and we apply stringent tests which assess whether the applicant is financially eligible.”
The costs of Voudouri’s legal aid – on top of huge costs of prosecution, investigation, and extradition from Cyprus back to Scotland of well over £2 million – leaves Prosecutors little to brag about if the true figure of bringing him to justice ever became known.
Proceeds of Crime figures regularly presented by Scotland’s top legal officers to the public as ‘crime successes’ do not add up, and are now beginning to anger even some in the crime fighting camp such as hard up budget strapped cops – who do all the leg work investigating & apprehending crooks – only to see big time prosecutions of major criminals hawked away in plea bargains and carefully spun out press releases presented by overpaid prosecutors on £100K + a year to a duped public.
Earlier this year, amid concern from Scotland’s top cops they were not seeing any of the supposed millions confiscated by the Crown Office, Police Scotland announced it was seeking £16 million over the next two years from the money recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca) to help plug its funding gap for the next two years.
Police Scotland is facing shortfalls in its budget because of delays in receiving cash under proceeds of crime (Poca) legislation.
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House told members of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in February that in many cases there was a “degradation” of value in the assets actually handed on.
He described the amount received by the force as “disappointing”
However, Police Scotland’s bid for £16m over two years roughly matches the entire current income from POCA which saw a drop in takings during 2013-14, receipts totalled £8m, down from £12m the year previously.
The Crown Office have offered no comment on how Proceeds of Crime figures are currently presented to the public and the media.