File On 4 on the Assets Recovery Agency

The Home Secretary John Reid may be attempting to reassure anyone who asks – even our Secretary of State for Wales etc – that “there will be no reduction in the level of effort on asset recovery in Northern Ireland”, or anywhere else presumably, but the BBC has a couple of reports to note. There’s an associated Radio4 File On 4 programme on the Asset Recovery Agency tonight at 8pm.The director of the Assets Recovery Agency, Jane Earl has criticised the restrictions of the initial legislation and the high expectations created with the agency’s launch

However, in her first interview since plans to scrap the body were announced, Ms Earl said legislation put many serious criminals beyond the agency’s reach.

She said certain criminals “made much of their criminal proceeds back in the 1980s and they are clearly outside the grasp of the law”.

Ms Earl went on: “There are key people who we could never go after simply because of the limitation period.”

She said that the ARA had lived up to “very high expectations” in some respects, but it could never have gone after more established criminals, as had been expected.

While the second report notes the local conspiracy theory..

In Northern Ireland, there were big hits against gangsters linked to a range of paramilitary organisations.

Then three months ago, the agency and its Irish counterpart went into settlement negotiations over a huge VAT fraud and walked away the proud owners of £18m, a villa in Marbella and four racehorses.

As a result, this financial year the ARA is on track to bring in more than its own running costs – target met.

Officials at the agency complain privately that they weren’t given enough time to prove themselves.

In Belfast, the decision to scrap the ARA is met with ill-concealed anger from leading political parties, who weren’t consulted, and even the Chief Constable has expressed his reservations in public.

There are mainstream party leaders who wonder aloud if it isn’t a sop to help win Gerry Adams’ support for policing.

The timing is at least a remarkable coincidence.

All this is denied by the government, which argues that assets recovery will proceed full steam ahead under its new banner when the ARA is abolished next year.

But people deeply involved in cases remain pessimistic and wonder if a golden opportunity is being lost, to seize the major proceeds of crime.

Radio4’s File on Four programme on the Asset Recovery Agency will be broadcast tonight at 8pm.

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