SCOTLAND’S criminals have found a way to escape police seizures of cash and hang on to their ill-gotten gains.
Instead of carrying the money with them, they load up pre-paid debit cards with thousands of pounds.
Proceeds of crime legislation means that any amount of cash over £1,000 that can’t be accounted for can be confiscated.
But police have discovered that crooks are carrying debit cards loaded up with thousands of pounds.
In one case, £30,000 had been put on the card, that can then be spent wherever there is a debit facility.
Gangs are also splitting up money so that no individual is carrying more than £1,000 at any time.
The Scottish Government are trying to tighten up the laws but the legislation surrounding prepaid debit cards is reserved to Westminster, leaving them powerless.
Stewart Maxwell MSP has written to Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, to ask him to raise the matter with the Home Office.
Mr Maxwell said: “Seizing cash from crooks and re-investing it in the communities they have damaged is a vital part of tackling organised crime.
“However, the current legislation does not allow the police to seize ‘stored-value cards’ from criminals.
“Crooks can therefore simply pile thousands of pounds on to the cards to avoid it being seized.
“This is a gap in the law which the unscrupulous will seek to exploit.”
Mr Maxwell went on to say that police need extra powers to clamp down on gangsters.
He added: “Closing this loophole will help them do just that.
“Unfortunately, the law in this area is reserved to Westminster so the Scottish Parliament is powerless.
“That is why I have written to Kenny MacAskill asking he raise this issue with the Home Office at the earliest opportunity.
“This is a public safety issue of the utmost importance.
“If Westminster will not act to toughen up the law they must give Scottish ministers the powers to do so.
“I have also raised with the Cabinet Secretary the issue of the minimum amount of cash that the police can seize from criminals.
“Currently the police cannot make a seizure of less than £1,000, which in effect means criminal gangs can carry large amounts of money, gained illegally, safe in the knowledge police cannot touch them.
“That figure is too high and I’ve suggested it be reduced to £500.”
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 allows police to track down and recover the profits of crime from people with a criminal lifestyle.
There doesn’t have to be a criminal conviction if it can be proved on the balance of probabilities the property was obtained through unlawful conduct.
However, they cannot seize less than £1,000.
Kenny MacAskill said: “This criminal activity undermines legitimate hard-working businesses and we’ve had enough of it.
“Scotland’s law enforcement agencies are cracking down hard on these criminals, bringing them to justice and seizing the assets from their ill-gotten gains – fancy cars, expensive houses or anything else gained through illegal activity.
“Last month we launched plans to bring in legislation which will allow us to seize even more of their criminal assets.
“Police intelligence has indicated that there are some criminals who are exploiting a loophole by using these cards and we want to act upon that intelligence.
“The UK Government has so far resisted our calls to allow us to take action on this but we are not taking no for an answer and we will step up our efforts to close this loophole through legislation.
“If Westminster is not willing to take the action needed they should devolve the powers to Scotland.”
REPORT: Cara Sulieman