Criminals in the West Midlands region were forced to pay back a record £6.3 million from proceeds of crime in the last year.
The figure represents a 39 per cent increase in money clawed back from criminals in the West Midlands Police area in the last 12 months.
The confiscations have been highlighted by Adrian Phillips, head of the Proceeds of Crime Unit at West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service.
He said: “There’s a scene in the film, The Italian Job, where Michael Caine is released from prison.
“He goes to a garage to collect his Aston Martin and the valet says, ‘You’ve been away on holiday a long time Sir. The garage fees are going to be rather expensive’.
“Michael gets the chap to start the car and goes under the bonnet, allegedly tuning it, takes out a huge wad of money and pays the chap out of that.
“And the chap says, ‘Oh, where did you say you’ve been on holiday? What were you doing?’
“Michael Caine says, ‘Shooting tigers. A large bounty on tigers – it pays very well’.
“Now that’s what the legislation is to stop – a professional criminal going into prison, coming back out and still having their Aston Martin.’’
It is not just Aston Martins being seized by the tiny, four-strong CPS team, which is currently dealing with 1,000 proceeds of crime cases across the West Midlands, West Mercia, Warwickshire and Staffordshire police force areas.
Mr Phillips said: “We have forced the sale of a Lamborghini worth around £200,000.
“We have also forced the sale of Bentleys, jewellery and Rolexes worth £20,000 to £30,000.”
Mr Phillips has been with the CPS for 21 years and previously specialised in cases involving organised crime, drug importation, fraud, election offences and extradition bids.
In the last three years he has been heading up a four-strong Proceeds of Crime department. He is also a senior lawyer with the CPS’s highly-specialised Complex Casework Unit, where he now specialises in fraud and money laundering cases.
He and his dedicated team work closely with police to identify potential confiscation cases.
Mr Phillips said: “At the very beginning you’ve got the police who carry out the investigations and it’s down to the individual officers to identify cases where there is the opportunity for confiscation or forfeiture.
“CPS lawyers will, however, provide advice to the police when asked to do so.”
Moving money abroad into property, banks or businesses is one of the laundering tricks attempted by fraudsters.
But the West Midlands lawyers use diplomatic, police and criminal justice links with foreign counterparts to identify the criminal assets.
Mr Phillips said: “We’ve applied for information from America, Jamaica, pretty much everywhere in Europe, Russia, Thailand, South Africa, Scandinavia, Hong Kong and Dubai.”
Yet it is not just the flash millionaire criminals who are targeted by police and the CPS team.
Mr Phillips said: “Anyone can have a confiscation order made against them. If you’ve got a prolific burglar and they live in a nice house, drive a decent car, don’t work, wife doesn’t work, then they are a prime candidate for confiscation.
“If (the money involved) was £15,000 to £20,000 we’d be interested. It’s not a high threshold.
“For example we dealt with the case of Saika Shoukat 28, a care assistant who stole the life savings of an elderly resident suffering from dementia.
“Tragically the lady died before the end of the prosecution case, but we were able to get the defendant to pay back all the money she had stolen – £32,000.
“To do this the Shoukat had to sell her home, even though it had not been bought with the proceeds of her crime.
“The money has now been paid to the old lady’s next of kin in Ireland. And any drug dealer will automatically be looked at. There’s a huge public interest there.
“If somebody goes to prison they sit on their bum, read a few paperbacks, and they come back out and they’ve still got all the money from their criminality, that funds further criminality.