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Australia to seize crime assets on suspicion

Chopper Read
Mark 'Chopper' Read is likely to keep the profits from his literary efforts

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CANBERRA, Australia -- Australian courts will soon be able to seize the assets of people they reasonably believe to have profited from crime, even if the suspects have not yet been convicted.

The new law, which will come into effect January 1 next year, will also apply to the earnings from "tell it all books" related to suspected criminal activity.

The tough new laws are aimed at serious and organized crime, as well as part of a concerted anti-terrorism response, the government says.

The crime bill, which was passed by Australia's parliament Monday evening, puts the onus on criminal suspects to prove their assets and property were lawfully derived or face seizure by the authorities.

The new law gives the courts the right to freeze and confiscate assets if they consider on the "balance of probabilities" that a person has engaged in a serious crime in the previous six years.

Only federal crimes will be covered by the new laws however, leaving many serious offenses charged by state jurisdictions unaffected.

"Attacking the profits of offences such as drug trafficking, money laundering and people smuggling is attacking both the motivation and ability to commit further serious crime," Justice Minister Chris Ellison said in a statement Monday.

Previously, courts could not seize assets without proving the suspect had committed a crime and had profited financially from doing so.

Murder boasts

"This is a significant step in the continued fight against organized and serious crime," Ellison said.

"Enabling the forfeiture of a suspect's assets without needing a conviction strengthens the ability of law enforcement agencies to target the 'Mr Bigs' who seek to distance themselves from their criminal operations but not from the profits.

"In addition, there are tough new provisions in the legislation which will prevent criminals from selling their story or trading on their notoriety in the media for profit."

The law, however, is unlikely to affect Australia's most notorious killer-turned-author Mark "Chopper" Read, who has written 10 books about his criminal life and times, because his convictions have not been for federal crimes, a spokeswoman for Ellison told Reuters.

Read, who has spent 23 years in prison and boasts of being involved in the deaths of 19 fellow criminals without ever being convicted of murder, achieved fame after the biographical movie "Chopper" won accolades at Cannes in 2000.

The bill also targeted terrorists by enhancing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to freeze and confiscate property relating to such offences, Ellison said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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