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The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has merged with the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) as part of plans to streamline the recovery of criminal assets.

The merger, which was agreed by Parliament last year through the provisions of the Serious Crime Act, means SOCA will now have both criminal and civil powers to fight organised crime.

SOCA director general Bill Hughes said the merger will help the agency deprive crooks of "illgotten gains".

Other measures in the Serious Crime Act mean that asset recovery powers, pioneered by the ARA, will be handed over to other law enforcement agencies including the Serious Fraud Office and HM Revenue and Customs.

SOCA was established on 1 April 2006 following a merger of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), the investigative arm of HM Revenue & Customs on serious drug trafficking, and the Immigration Service's unit dealing with people trafficking.

Its top priorities in fighting drug dealing and organised immigration crime have prompted criticism from sections of the security community who reckon the fight against cybercrime is not getting the resources it deserves since the NHTCU merged into the larger intelligence agency.

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Asset recovery is critical to the fight against all levels of crime and we are determined to stop criminals profiting from crimes which affect the lives of the law abiding majority.

"I've been pleased with the work of the Assets Recovery Agency which has achieved a lot including introducing new legislation in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which alongside SOCA introducing new approaches to tackling organised crime, has resulted in the confiscation of more criminal assets. To build on this successful work we are merging ARA into SOCA to maximise the available skills and expertise and to build on the individual achievements of both agencies," he added.

The official announcement on the merger, which came into effect on 1 April, can be found here. ®

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