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SOCA denies ditching crime boss hunt

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The UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has denied reports that it has abandoned a hunt for crime barons in favour of a broader sweep against 500 criminal organisations involving 15,000 suspected crooks.

The Times reported this morning that the agency had gone back to the drawing board after failing to prosecute more than a small number of high-profile targets. The paper reports that the hitlist was based on flawed intelligence, meaning that many of the supposed Mr Bigs were only mid-range crooks.

But a spokeswoman for SOCA said its original strategy of targeting high-impact criminals remains in place. Further accusations in the Times that morale at the agency is low and staff are leaving "in droves" are also wrong, she added. Leaving staff have largely retired, she said.

The agency has sent a letter to The Times taking issue with its article, disputing the suggestion that it had failed to bring any major criminals to book. The SOCA spokeswoman referred our questions about whether or not its budget has been slashed to the Home Office, which is yet to respond to our calls.

SOCA is due to publish its annual report later this week. The agency has already published its strategic priorities for 2007/08 which maintain its traditional focus on stamping down the trade in hard drugs and combating people smuggling. The fight against drugs gets 43 per cent of SOCA's budget while the fight against fraud - a category that includes cybercrime - gets just five per cent of the pie.

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 absorption of the NHTCU. ®

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