Interview with Andy Young (Crown Prosecution Service)

Andy Young is a prosecutor with over 20 years of experience. He’s been with the Crown Prosecution Service since 2004. Currently Mr. Young is the Deputy Chief of the Organized Crime section of the Crown Prosecution Service in Birmingham. Prosecutor Young sat for an interview after the training seminar for the project “Rule of Law and Organized Crime” on April 11, 2013 in Sofia. The event was supported by America for Bulgaria Foundation.

What is the structure of the Crown Prosecution Service – CPS? Are there specialized divisions and what are they? Do you have a specialized prosecution and court against organized crime? What are their powers, function and jurisdiction? How many people are in this division? How many cases per year do they handle?

CPS is divided up into thirteen geographical areas, and each is aligned with a police office. There are five divisions: the Serious Crime Section, Counter-Terrorism, Special Crime, Central Fraud and Organized Crime.

In the Organized Crime division there are 80 lawyers, and forty of them deal solely with asset forfeiture; in addition, we have also support staff, so the total comes to 120 officers. We work on cases all over the country; we have a central office in London and offices in the Midlands and in the North. We work almost exclusively with SOCA – the Serious Organized Crime Agency, which is a national organization; though I am based in Birmingham, I can work 200 km from home.

In terms of average cases per year, it varies; at the moment we are running around 250-300 cases nationally, of which 75-80 are in Birmingham. Some of these are big cases, with lots of defendants. For example, I have got about 15 cases but not all of those are active, not all of them are at court stage. Literally, we work on these cases from the start of the investigation to the final appeal.

What criteria do you follow to qualify a case as organized crime? Are they formal, e.g. more than three members of the criminal group or others?

Unlike Bulgaria, we have no formal criteria; 98% of our cases are investigated by SOCA. We do in addition pick up other sensitive cases. Basically, we divide crime into three categories: the first level is local, the next level is cross-county borders, and the final - where we are - is national and transnational crime. My office deals with national and international organized crime cases.

As concerns the cooperation between CPS and SOCA, we work very closely indeed: our office is in one of their buildings and we are in constant contact. I can pick up the telephone, knock on the door of my colleagues, and they do the same. SOCA is going soon to take on more responsibilities as a national crime agency. We also cooperate with the HM Revenue and HM Customs, who have investigative functions; we cooperate with agencies abroad on transnational crime.

Have you worked with the Bulgarian authorities on any cases?

I have worked on one case but I didn’t have to seek formal cooperation, and I am not aware of any ongoing cases involving Bulgarian nationals.

How widespread are crimes committed by Bulgarian citizens in your region and in the UK? Do they engage in any typical criminal acts?

I don’t think there is any pattern of ‘Bulgarian’ crimes in the UK; they do feature in various gangs, but there are no typical crimes. I’ve worked on a few cases involving drug trafficking, fraud. There aren’t many Bulgarians living in the area of Birmingham, but we have a lot of Romanians, Albanians, Kosovars.

Recently we’ve been reading in the UK media publications warning of an expected immigration wave from Bulgaria and Romania in 2014. Are you taking any measures for crime prevention?

Yes, the police are putting some measures in place for crime prevention but this is still a domestic effort, we have not asked the Bulgarian authorities for formal assistance.  I don’t expect a sudden rise in crime among Bulgarian immigrants.

Let’s go back to the crime cases you investigate. How many of those cases end up with guilty verdicts and what is the average sentence imposed?

Of those cases that go to court the conviction rates are high, about 85-90 per cent. It’s hard to give you an average sentence because of the different offences and different involvement of people. The lowest level might get two years; the person at the highest level in the group can get twenty-two years. But the reason for the high rate of conviction is because we only convict when we have strong evidence; typically, we don’t lose on evidence but because of some procedural mistakes. The prosecutor decides whether there’s enough evidence and if it is in the public interest to prosecute the case; there aren’t many cases with full investigation that we’ll drop.

There are differences between how the Bulgarian and the UK prosecutors organize their work; in the UK we have more tools available to us than our BG colleagues. We rely on teams of officers to investigate a case, where in Bulgaria there is only one person investigating per case; certainly, our workload isn’t as big as it is here.

Tell us about the anti-organized crime legislation in the UK.

There are major differences in the legislation in Bulgaria and the UK on organized crime, the whole approach is different. In Bulgaria you have the offence of being a member of an organized crime group; we prosecute on conspiracy or agreement to commit a crime, or we wait to catch them in the act. Also, we have more equipment available to investigate crime, and we are also better served in terms of the things we’re allowed to do. For example, officers in the UK can seize cash during the course of an investigation; we can stop a car and if we find five or ten thousand pounds, we can seize it. It is up to the people in the car to prove the money is legitimate. The Bulgarian colleagues here seemed horrified because it might be regarded as a breach of human rights.

At what point in the investigation do you freeze the criminal assets? Do you follow civil or criminal asset recovery procedures?

We rely more on criminal asset forfeiture because it is a more straightforward procedure. In the moment the law is in a bit of flux and we’re awaiting some more legislation to correct this. The new legislation will to allow us civilly to seize property anywhere in the world – on civil forfeiture grounds – if we can prove the money is criminal property. The burden of proof in civil confiscation is on the prosecution; once we’ve convicted someone of a criminal offense, the court can assume it is criminal property and can confiscate it.

If the Bulgarian colleagues believe cash seizure is a useful building block for the prosecution, it may be worth exploring the options for changing the legislation in Bulgaria. We use cash seizures together with surveillance to prove that the main person in the center has been laundering money. My Bulgarian colleagues can’t do that in the moment, and this might be a reason to change the law.

What is the amount of confiscated assets in the UK in money laundering cases? What happens with that money afterwards, who manages it, do you have a special management fund?

In 2008, we have confiscated 124 million pounds; in 2011 the amount is 175 million and going up. We are working with the new legislation which has proven very effective in confiscating criminal property.

There is no asset management fund; the money is roughly divided into three – the first part goes for victims’ compensation; then the Treasury gets about 50%, and the rest is divided between the police, SOCA, and other organizations. It is mainly used to fund further investigations, certain projects, crime prevention campaigns, etc. I know the Bulgarian government has also introduced new legislation on civil asset forfeiture and I believe this is a step in the right direction.

At what point in the investigation do you freeze the criminal assets? Do you follow civil or criminal asset recovery procedures?

We can freeze the assets at any point but usually it’s around the time of arrest. If we think the criminal is going to get rid of the assets, we’ll freeze them. If they have the so-called criminal lifestyle – i.e., a lot of wealth without visible means of support – we can investigate the background, bank accounts, jobs, etc.

In my opinion, asset forfeiture is more effective than prison. It takes the gain out of crime and eliminates the main reason for committing crime. It also sends a strong message to the community; and of course, it also serves as a deterrent and prevention measure.

What special instruments to fight organized crime do you apply in the UK? What are the most frequently used special investigation methods? What difficulties do you face, say, for using agents undercover?

We can do surveillance, on foot or by vehicles, we use electronic devices, we can put bugs in a property or a vehicle, video evidence from an observation post, CCTV, direct automatic number plate recognition, undercover officers, informants… but we abide by a strict authorization regime. For non-intrusive surveillance such as following people we need the authorization of a senior police officer in writing; for intrusive surveillance, e.g. placing bugs in someone’s house we need authorization by the surveillance commissioners. These are usually retired judges who oversee the authorization process and give permission for surveillance. They have to make sure we’re not infringing on people’s rights; the surveillance has to be necessary, proportionate, we have to make sure there’s no collateral intrusion on third parties, etc. A request for surveillance can be granted urgently but it has to be backed up in a few days by the required papers, it takes 1-2 weeks to do it properly. Once the process is on, we need to report regularly to a judge; each grant is for 3 months and can be renewed or withdrawn at the end of the period.

Different cases and investigations require different methods, so the effectiveness of special investigation techniques and methods basically depends on the case.

As concerns undercover agents, we have to go through the same authorization process as for other surveillance. We have to be cautious because this can be very dangerous for the person working undercover. I’ve had only two cases of the last 20 where I’ve used undercover agents.

Have you participated in any Joint Investigation Teams with Bulgarian prosecutors?

No, I have not, but I think it is a good method.

Let’s go back to the issue of prosecuting organized crime: do you have plea agreement procedures in the UK? Under what conditions does the prosecution offer plea agreements?

As prosecutors we are given certain powers, for example, we can authorize disclosure notices where SOCA or the police can serve a notice on a person to provide us with information or evidence if we think they got it; this is a good alternative and much quicker than court orders or a search warrant. We can offer immunity from prosecution in exceptional cases to allow a conspirator to give evidence against his co-conspirators; we can offer a limited use undertaking immunity to prosecution; we can also offer assisting offender agreements. They must enter into a written contract and admit all their criminality and give evidence to the prosecution; the judge can then reduce their sentence by up to 2/3. We have early plea agreements in big fraud cases, whereby the defendant will agree to plead guilty to certain offences. It can be expensive to go to court, so plea agreements may help offset some of the public cost of trials. We have to bear in mind the cost of proceedings when we decide on whether to use plea agreements. Criminals can also seek plea agreements – the English system is based on the fact that they can offer us some pleas, to some things, not to all – but we decide on which to accept.

In the UK we have a witness protection program too, but it is very expensive, and most of the time it is people in the program who violate it when they want to see their relatives.

During your stay in Sofia, did you identify any specific issues in the work of the Bulgarian specialized court, what did you find interesting? What do you consider the good sides of having a Specialized Court and Prosecution, overall and for Bulgaria, in particular?

My understanding is that the Bulgarian legal system is unduly formalistic and prosecutors can lose cases if something minor is wrong; the English system tries to reduce that and be more successful.

As regards the specialized institutions in general I find them helpful because the prosecutors and judges can gain valuable expertise. In the UK we have a protocol with the court that certain courts will work with us on organized crime cases, to make things run more smoothly.

What training is available to prosecutors specializing in anti-organized crime in your country? Do you offer specialized training courses – initial training or ongoing courses?

All of our judges are former layers; some may have prosecuted organized crime cases before, but not all. Both prosecutors and judges get training; I have had training on covert methods, using communications data, telephone billing data, computer evidence, etc., things that a normal prosecutor may not need for her work. Every lawyer and judge has to undergo training every year; the training for us is organized by the CPS. On the other hand, if I do training for SOCA, this also counts as training for me because I have to prepare for it.

This is your first time in Bulgaria, what are your main impressions? What are your three most important recommendations for success in the fight against organized crime?

I think the asset forfeiture legislation is moving in the right direction; as I understand, the Criminal Procedure Code is also due to be revised. I have read the most recent EC report on the judicial system where it says that there’s progress made but maybe not as quickly as some would like. Yet six years is no time at all, in my view. I suspect there will always be a degree of criticism against the system here or in the UK; we can’t always get it right, and when we make mistakes, we get criticized in the press.

As for the Bulgarian criminality, I don’t regard it as major problem in UK; compared to Albanians, Romanian, Chinese, or Pakistani criminal groups, we don’t regard Bulgaria as a major risk. I also don’t think that much will change in 2014; we have a lot of Poles in the UK now, but we don’t have that many problems with Polish citizens committing crimes. Let’s hope we will have the same situation with the Bulgarian citizens.

I think that joint work between investigation teams is the most important thing, the close cooperation between prosecutors and investigators, between jurisdictions, ensuring that as much as possible we meet each other’s requirements. I was talking to the asset forfeiture commission yesterday and I found out what documentation they need from us, so next time we’ll be able to respond much quicker to their official requests.

Another recommendation I can make is putting measures in place to prevent recurrence: putting travel restriction orders, serious crime prevention orders, they are very effective for prevention and a breach of such orders is a crime and can be prosecuted. As I already said, for me asset forfeiture is the greatest incentive and crime prevention measure.

If you come again to Bulgaria, what would you like to tell the Bulgarian prosecutors?

What would be most useful for the cooperation between Bulgaria and the UK is to explore the differences in legislation and procedure, between the common law system in the UK and the legislation in Bulgaria. At EU level I see the Joint Investigation Teams as a really good tool; they need to be encouraged and enhanced even though funding is a bit of an issue now. Communication is another crucial thing, language has been a barrier but things can go misunderstood even with interpreters. The secret for me is to meet people, because it’s much easier to work with a person when you know them.

Interviewer: Snezhina Atanassova