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Cash Forfeiture - A General Guide

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Law enforcement officers can sometimes seize cash either when it is being moved around, or during a search – even a search of your home. They will take it if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting it is recoverable property.

Recoverable property means property derived from unlawful conduct. The minimum amount is generally £1000. It can be less than £1000 in some circumstances.

When the law enforcement officers believe that a number of people with smaller amounts of cash are connected to each other, then they can seize the whole lot even if each amount is below the minimum if it they can demonstrate that the money has a common source, or a common destination.

Law enforcement call this practice “smurfing”.

What happens after seizure is that within 48 hours, law enforcement must get an order for detention from the magistrates. These orders are normally granted for a three month period, and a rolling series of orders can be obtained at three month intervals. Then at some stage law enforcement will make an application for forfeiture and there will be a hearing in the magistrates court.

At the hearing the authorities must show on the balance of probabilities (i.e. more likely than not) that the money is recoverable property or intended for use in crime. They don’t have to allege or prove any specific offence, but they must show that it was derived from or intended for use in one of a number of particular kinds of criminal behaviour.

Generally they do this by simply relying on the amount of cash, and then any concealment by the person whose cash it is, or any untruthful comment they have made. Nowadays there is also a requirement within most EU countries that at their borders you have to disclose any amounts of cash above the minimum which you are carrying, and why you are carrying it.

Sometimes the police allege that having a large amount of cash at home means the owner is trying to avoid paying tax. But generally, a failure to pay tax doesn’t make the cash criminal property.

Sometimes cash forfeiture proceedings are conducted alongside criminal proceedings, in which case they are normally adjourned until the criminal proceedings are concluded.

There’s no legal aid available to fight cash forfeiture. And if you instruct us to fight it for you, you will be lucky to get your costs back even if you win.

But we can win cash forfeiture proceedings. These days, law enforcement often take any money they find, and then try to justify it later. And they are sometimes sloppy. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Kilburn Office on 0207 624 7771, or Click here.

Richard Furlong
25 Bedford Row

Richard Furlong is a barrister at 25 Beford Row, Richard’s experience in serious fraud matters includes VAT and diversion fraud, investment and commercial fraud of all types. He regularly represents professionals including accountants, financial advisers as well as senior business people. He is a highly regarded for his expertise in high value confiscation, asset recovery and restraint proceedings.