Assets Recovery Agency to be scrapped

Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has said the ARA will be merged with Soca
Home Office minister Vernon Coaker has said the ARA will be merged with Soca

The Home Office has said it plans to scrap the agency designed to recover the assets of organised criminals.

Vernon Coaker, under secretary for police and security, said the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) will be become part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) from April 2008.

The assets recovery agency (ARA) was set up three years ago by Tony Blair to make sure "crime doesn't pay", by stepping up the confiscation of ill-gotten gains but has faced heavy criticism over its cost effectiveness.

But time has now been called on the controversial initiative.


"The Assets Recovery Agency has successfully steered the radical new powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act through every legal challenge it has faced," Mr Coaker said in a statement.

"It is recovering significant amounts of criminally-acquired wealth, including a recent settlement worth over £12 million.

"There are significant synergies in merging ARA with Soca, as Soca builds its understanding of organised crime and widens the tool-kit used to tackle it."

The move comes in the wake of criticism of ARA's performance after it was revealed last year that the agency costs four times as much to run as it collects.

The ARA was set up by Tony Blair four years ago with the goal of recovering £60 million a year from criminals.

In an article for The Express in February 2003, Mr Blair wrote that the new ARA would "hit [criminals] hard where it hurts most - in their pockets".

He wrote: "We are going to seize their yachts, their cars, their homes and their cash wherever and whenever we find their ill-gotten gains. In short, we are going to ensure they no longer profit from their life of crime."

But a report by Conservative MP Grant Shapps in June revealed that in the last financial year it cost £17.8 million to run, but only seized £4.1 million. This year, the agency's budget is £19.8 million, but it has only recovered £4.3 million so far.

This is far short of the ARA's target to seize assets of at least the value of its budget, and while the amount of money confiscated by UK law enforcement agencies last year totalled £82.6 million, the agency was responsible for just £2.7 million of this.

However, the government has pointed out that £68.45 million worth of assets are currently subject to freezing laws, but the agency is fighting legal challenges over its right to recover the assets.

The Conservatives have backed plans to merge the ARA with Soca.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "It is common sense to merge it with Soca but this should not mean that its costs and level of assets recovered are no longer published. We still need to be able to monitor its effectiveness."

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "It is common sense to merge it with Soca but this should not mean that its costs and level of assets recovered are no longer published. We still need to be able to monitor its effectiveness."

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