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Katie

Katie Bourne

Year of Award: 2014 Award State: New South Wales Defence And Security > Organised Crime
Legal > General
The Donald Mackay Churchill Fellowship to examine the technological resources utilised by international law enforcement agencies to assist in tracing the proceeds of crime - USA, Netherlands, UK, Canada
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Many of the challenges and frustrations experienced by Australian investigators and personnel working in the areas of organised crime, money laundering and asset confiscation were also experienced to varying degrees by each agency with which I met.

The globalisation of crime and the electronic age in which we live has indelibly affected the way in which investigations must be approached, yet so many of our practices largely remain unchanged. The ability of some international law enforcement agencies to gain access to confiscated funds to finance future expenses associated with investigations where there is significant asset recovery potential is a distinct advantage to the current practical position in New South Wales, and many of the jurisdictions in Australia. Such access is minimal in New South Wales and is not a major advantage.

There are a number of valuable opportunities to disrupt organised crime, to deprive its actors of their profits, and to secure further confiscated funds which would otherwise be lost due to the cost of investigations and disruptive strategies which simply cannot be funded within existing and sometimes declining budgets. Other international jurisdictions have recognised the need to invest significant time, attention and funding in this area and have reaped the rewards for many years.

The Government in The Netherlands has recently invested a substantial amount of money (€100 million over 5 years) to boost and strengthen its efforts in asset recovery. This scheme requires case-by-case bids by the relevant investigation teams to demonstrate how they are going to return three times the investment in the recovery of criminal proceeds. The results are not required to be returned until 2018, but the interim results are very strong and demonstrate the level of commitment from both the Government and the practitioners in this area. In that jurisdiction, there has been a meaningful change of mindset in relation to disrupting organised crime and the importance of taking away the profits from the criminals has received both serious attention and funding.

In Australia, there is a need to continue to work towards overcoming barriers to effective partnership, particularly between the States and the Commonwealth. Many of the issues raised in this report incorporate four key themes; sharing, training, incentivisation and electronics.

There are number of ways to improve New South Wales’ approach to asset recovery. First, existing procedures and practices need to be fine-tuned and updated. For example, an improvement in the area of electronic information exchange between investigating agencies and financial institutions would revolutionise the speed and accuracy of financial investigations.

The second and possibly the highest priority is collaboration. As with criminal investigations and counter terrorism work, closer collaboration and communication between the agencies involved in this complex area would create awareness, share knowledge and skills and open up some meaningful discussion about how best to educate investigative personnel and strengthen both the state and national approach to asset recovery. Every overseas organisation with which I met had long-running, entrenched, specialist financial investigation training and support for its agents, police and other personnel. It was not the exception, it was the rule. This is not the case in Australia.

Finally, there must be some innovation in the approach to the identification or investigation of persons of interest and the ways in which organised crime investigations are conducted. Recovering the proceeds of crime must be considered as important as the recovery of narcotics. This is not because money is as dangerous as drugs but taking away the profits from the sale of narcotics is the often the most effective approach to disrupting organised crime. There are agencies that use innovative and aggressive methodologies to infiltrate and investigate money launderers and enablers of organised crime.

There are ways in which agencies can collaborate, share and  better utilise technological resources to sift through voluminous data sets to make links and proactively target criminals who are not currently on the radar. The continual improvement and strengthening of the legislative infrastructure which underpins the asset recovery regime within New South Wales and the rest of Australia is also vital. It is important to note, however, that the asset confiscation practices and legislative framework in New South Wales, is at least equal to, or in some respects, superior to the overseas jurisdictions I visited.

The focus of this report is the experience in New South Wales. New South Wales has always achieved significant results, comparatively speaking, in the area of asset confiscation, but there is always room for improvement and it is on these areas that this report is focused.

This report has benefited from the generous sharing of knowledge and experience  of Federal Agents, Police Officers, Analysts and Lawyers.

The full report will not be publicly available due to the sensitive nature of some of the information contained within.

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