The courts will soon have the power to confiscate ill-gotten gains of criminal syndicates - even without a criminal conviction - after a Bill to combat organised crime was passed yesterday.
Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in Parliament that the Organised Crime Bill gives law enforcement "additional levers" to act against the masterminds of organised criminal groups (OCGs).
"They are the ones who instruct and intimidate others into criminal acts, yet are most shielded from enforcement," said Mr Iswaran during the Bill's second reading.
An OCG is defined as three or more people involved in serious crimes - such as drug trafficking and money laundering - for the purpose of material or financial benefit.
One of the key "levers" of the Bill is a civil confiscation regime, which allows the public prosecutor to apply to the High Court for confiscation of material gains from activities of these OCGs - even without a criminal conviction.
The public prosecutor has to prove on a "balance of probabilities" that an individual has committed the crimes. This means that if it can be shown that the crime most probably took place, the courts can confiscate the benefits.
Such a move requires a lower burden of proof than a criminal conviction, where guilt must be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
This confiscation regime is similar to one already in place for serious offences such as drug trafficking and corruption.
Mr Iswaran said this would "diminish the incentive and the resources for persons to carry out organised crime activities.
This is the ultimate objective of the civil confiscation regime".
The public prosecutor would also be able to apply for three different preventive orders - concerning organised crime prevention, financial reporting and disqualification.
An Organised Crime Prevention Order will allow the court to restrict the activities and electronically monitor the movements of a suspect for up to five years.
A Financial Reporting Order will require a suspect to furnish the authorities with financial reports, which can last for his term of imprisonment plus five years. Both can be issued without a conviction.
A Disqualification Order can only be issued following a conviction, and bars the accused from acting as a director of a company.
Yesterday, two MPs - Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC) - rose in support of the Bill, but questioned if there were sufficient safeguards to ensure the non-conviction orders would not unfairly penalise suspects who were in fact innocent.
"There is a higher chance that a mistake may be made under a non-conviction regime because of the lower standard of proof," said Mr Nair.
Mr Yeo noted that the civil confiscation provisions in fact reversed the burden of proof, requiring a subject to "prove the legitimacy of his property".
"In other words, any property which is disproportionate to the subject's known sources of income, and which he cannot explain to the court's satisfaction is presumed to be the benefits of organised crime," he said.
In response to Mr Nair, Mr Iswaran said that subjects would be able to defend themselves in court against the issuance of such orders. "There is also provision for appeals to the Court of Appeal," the minister said.
Mr Iswaran assured Mr Yeo that the civil confiscation would be used "judiciously", adding that "a confiscation order is therefore not made simply on the grounds that defendant cannot explain the origins of his wealth.
We first have to establish the predicate offence on the balance of probabilities".
He emphasised that the new provisions were modelled after those in other jurisdictions including the United Kingdom and New Zealand, and have been shown to be effective.
"The experiences of these countries have shown that such tools are effective and necessary to prevent and disrupt organised crime."
This article was first published on August 18, 2015.
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