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Governing Organised Crime via the Back Door!

Chistyakova, Y., Wall, D.S. & Bonino, S.

This paper contributes to ongoing debates about the value of the confiscation of proceeds of crime approach by reviewing the current literature as well as examining a subset of the Joint Asset Recovery Database (JARD) data to see what the evidence can demonstrate about the performance of the regime. The data we examined suggest that, in practice, seizing illicit wealth has not been the main priority for the government, rather, the POCA 2002, originally designed to target serious and organised crime, has been streamlined to be used predominantly as a disciplining and symbolic tool against relatively low-level acquisitive crimes. There is, however, little evidence to say whether it has been effective against the most harmful criminal enterprises and networks.

Currently, evidence of deterrent, disrupting or harm-reduction impact of asset recovery and anti-money laundering measures on criminal markets, especially in relation to organised crime and terrorism, remains weak. Individual agencies use a range of internal measures of impact, but these approaches cannot isolate the impact of specific measures such as confiscation orders. The meaning and scope of the confiscation of proceeds of crime has also frequently changed following shifting understandings of criminal threats, from drugs to terrorism, organised crime, money laundering and unexplained wealth. The political underpinnings of these processes, however, have not yet been subject to a thorough and critical analysis.

The ideological assumptions behind the prioritisation of particular threats, groups and criminal activities often remain implicit. Although hard to prove conclusively, asset recovery thus seems to bear little relation to the social harm caused by the offences that generate illicit proceeds. Instead, the recovery agencies appear, from the data, to focus upon ‘easy targets’, the ‘low hanging fruit’. The questions about the meaning of the proceeds of crime and the legitimacy of confiscation powers are clearly broader than the question of how to use asset recovery to disrupt specific illegal activities. It is also important to remember the symbolic messages that laws such as the POCA 2002 send to society and which indicate the directions of State intent. It may be sensible for nation states to pursue a strategy of containment in relation to organised crime or other threats, and some would argue that the proceeds of crime approach is an important component of the arsenal of criminal and civil justice tools that can be used as part of this strategy. It is important, however, to subject the proceeds of crime discourses and claims to critical scrutiny, in terms of the State’s priorities in pursuing these proceeds and the meaning attached to ‘proceeds of crime’ in legislation and in practice.


Extracted from Chistyakova, Y. Wall, D.S. & Bonino, S. (2019) The Back-Door Governance of Crime: Confiscating Criminal Assets in the UK, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, Available as open access from

N.B. Although this paper originated out of the FP7 ARIEL and OCP projects it has relevance to the H2020 TAKEDOWN project objectives in so far as the various Proceeds of Crime acts are one way of controlling the crime/terror nexus where terror and organised crime actors mee