British FBI-style agency launched

Sunday, April 9, 2006

Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, who has launched SOCA with the hope of defeating "sophisticated" criminal gangs.

Prime Minister Tony Blair launched a new crime-fighting agency to deal with "brutal and sophisticated" crimes by organised gangs. The agency's mandate and powers have been compared to that of the United States' FBI.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), has approximately 4,200 "law enforcement officers", some of whom are ex-spies, and will use their £400m annual budget to fight counterfeiting, fraud, drug and people-trafficking.

The agency was created out of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and investigative staff from the Immigration Service. SOCA is chaired by ex-MI5 chief Sir Stephen Lander.

New Powers

SOCA will take advantage of new powers which have been brought in by the Blair government to help tackle serious and organised crime. The main four are:

Queen's Evidence
Prosecutors are now able to offer formal statutory deals, such as immunity or a reduced sentence, to those who testify against other accused criminals.

Financial reporting orders
Courts can compel criminals to supply their bank statements of up to 20 years past, to demonstrate that they have had no crime related earnings.

Disclosure notices
Courts can limit the suspect's right to remain silent, by ordering prison terms or fines if the suspect refuses to testify or provide documents.

Law enforcement officers
SOCA officers are empowered to exercise multiple powers, that of the police, immigration and customs officials.

Blair's Comments

When Prime Minister Tony Blair announced SOCA yesterday, he made several comments regarding the nature of organised crime today and the disorganised and underpowered police force expected to combat it. After announcing that SOCA would make life "hell" for what he dubs "criminal Mr. Bigs", he continued to outline what he believed to be the type of crime Britain was dealing with today.

"The level of sophistication, the level, frankly, of brutality with which many of these gangs operate today means that we have to do it differently. Organised crime is a chain, the bottom link of which is the consumer and the individual victim. Even an apparently invisible and victimless crime like defrauding a financial institution has ramifications for ordinary people. Organised crime, like most crimes, tends to make victims of the poor as least as much, if not more, than the wealthy. So there is an imperative to act."

After declaring that he would introduce any necessary new powers to help the new agency achieve its goals, he said, "There is absolutely nothing, in my view, that should come before the basic liberties of people in this country to be freed from the tyranny of this type of organised crime."