April 3, 2006

Britain’s new “FBI” crime-fighting unit launched

LONDON (Reuters) - A new British national crime-fighting
unit modeled on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
will be launched by the government on Monday with the aim of
taking on major criminal gangs.

The Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA), which will have
a staff of around 5,000, will tackle drug traffickers, people
smugglers, global pedophile networks and sophisticated

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will officially
launch the unit later on Monday, said the time had come to make
life "hell" for those who were behind Organized crime.

"This is not crime in the 1950s or crime even in the 1980s,
this is 21st century Organized crime: people trafficking,
Organized drug gangs, heavy types of fraud," he told Sky News.

"If we're going to hit them hard, we're going to need new
powers and a new organization to do that."

Asked what his message to crime bosses was, Blair said:
"This is an agency that has got the powers and the organization
that is going to make life hell for you, whilst you make life
hell for other people."

The agency will have new powers such as the use of evidence
from phone tapping, plea bargaining for witnesses, and a more
sophisticated witness protection program.

SOCA's chairman Sir Stephen Lander, former head of
Britain's domestic spy agency MI5, said last year one of its
main goals would be to take on people smugglers who exploit
illegal immigrants, such as the Chinese shellfish gatherers who
drowned in Morecambe Bay in northern England in February 2004.

It will also focus on those criminals involved in
trafficking women, often from eastern Europe, into Britain and
forcing them to work as prostitutes.

"Our aim is to disrupt and destabilize criminal gangs and
reduce the harm they are causing to the UK," Bill Hughes,
SOCA's director general told the Sunday Telegraph.

The cost of Organized crime in Britain is estimated to be
about 40 billion pounds ($73.23 billion) per year and is

"The drugs market, we think, is worth 7 billion pounds a
year. People smuggling, we have estimated, is worth about 1
billion pounds in the UK," Hughes said.

"We want to get these criminals off the streets."

Last month, London police said it was estimated there were
170 Organized criminal gangs made up of over 24 different
nationalities working in the capital alone.

SOCA's role combines the work previously carried out by the
National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence
Service as well as some areas which immigration and customs
officers used to enforce.