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Britain to get its own 'FBI'

By
PETER ALMOND

LONDON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- A new FBI-type agency announced by the British government Monday is set to counter growing concern about organized crime, fraud, money laundering and trafficking in drugs, and illegal immigrants at a time when British borders are expected to come under new challenge from 10 new countries joining the European Union.

Coincidental to the announcement, police in Liverpool said they arrested five people for the manslaughter of 19 apparently illegal Chinese immigrants who were drowned on Friday when a fast-rising tide overwhelmed them as they collected shellfish from mud flats at Morecambe, in Lancashire. Police are searching for the gang masters and are reported to believe Chinese Triad gangs are behind the illegal importation and exploitation of thousands of Chinese.

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Some 70 percent of illegal immigrants are estimated to enter the EU with the help of organized crime groups, with an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants entering the EU every year.

The Serious Organized Crime Agency, the new body, is the largest shakeup in British policing since new boundaries were created for 43 county-based police districts 40 years ago. It will merge some 5,500 staff in four agencies into one and see the disappearance of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. It will also take over the investigative functions of the Home Office and Customs and Excise.

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But in spite of former New York police chief Bill Bratton being tipped as the agency's first director, Home Secretary David Blunkett said the government is not intending to set up a direct copy the American FBI. Interviewed by the BBC Monday, Blunkett did not mention any FBI-type anti-terrorist activities for the agency, which is handled in Britain by MI5, GCHQ and Scotland Yard's Special Branch, but did emphasize the FBI's use of specialist lawyers and high technology.

In a statement he said: "Organized criminals make their millions from human misery -- trafficking in drugs and people, engaging in fraud and extortion. They control criminal empires that reach from the other side of the world to the dealer on the street corner. They believe they are beyond the reach of justice and out of our sights. That is not the case -- no one should be untraceable and no one should be untouchable. This new agency will focus on tracking them down."

Organized crime in Britain is estimated to be worth up to $70 billion a year, with vast amounts of money laundered through London's financial markets. In a pivotal position as an English-language gateway to the United States, Europe and other global regions Britain's traditional laissez-faire policies have been tested by groups ranging from Russian mafia and Colombian drug runners to Chinese and Balkan human traffickers.

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The most recent concern is that with 10 East European countries joining the EU in May many thousands of immigrants with new rights to travel and work across the EU -- and with English as their second language -- will be freely allowed to live in Britain, whose reputation for liberal welfare benefits and absence of personal identity papers is well known, though government crackdowns have made it more difficult for illegal immigrants in the past year. One British tabloid newspaper has made opposition to Romanian gypsies entering Britain a front-page campaign issue in recent weeks.

Unlike most other European countries, however, Britain does not have a national police force, with national resources. Public and politicians have been content to encourage the local focus of regional police forces, which are thought to be more responsive to local needs, though this has led to some embarrassing failures of communication, most recently when the police in Humberside misinterpreted the 1997 Data Protection Act, allowing a school caretaker to be employed in Cambridgeshire without police or education officials there knowing he already had a record of sexual attacks on young girls. The man was later convicted of killing two 10-year-old girls near his new school.

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Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, welcomed the new force, saying: "We are pleased that the proposed new agency will bring about a totally new partnership of equals, to combine intelligence collection and operations to maintain the national and international focus required to combat increasingly well-resourced and financed criminal organizations."

He warned, however, that the new agency would have to avoid the FBI's reputation for "aloofness" and "trampling on the turf of local law enforcers."

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