Al Capone fraud ploy may help bring war criminals to justice

THE chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group dealing with war crimes believes the Government should follow a similar judicial route to that which snared American gangster Al Capone to deliver a measure of justice for victims of war crimes.

Capone was eventually brought down by charges of tax evasion rather than anything related to his more violent activities and Michael McCann MP said charging suspected war criminals with immigration fraud could provide an alternative if other judicial avenues to prosecution or deportation are blocked.

The UK citizenship application form specifically asks: "In times of peace or war have you ever been involved in, or suspected of involvement in, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide?"

The form also states that knowingly or recklessly providing false information renders the applicant liable for prosecution.

Mr McCann said the US already uses this approach to charge suspected war criminals and it could be used in the UK. "It offers a fairly basic and pragmatic way of holding people to account but we seem reticent on this," he said.

The potential for using immigration law is being highlighted because effectively dealing with war criminals has so far proved beyond the capabilities of politicians, Whitehall and the police.

Gathering evidence is difficult, particularly if a foreign government refuses co-operation, and the alternative of potential deportation can often fall foul of human rights legislation.

But even acknowledging the difficulties, the facts suggest the UK is falling well short of developing a coherent and robust policy that delivers a degree of justice for victims of criminals who may have been aparty to horrendous crimes including murder, torture and systematic rape.

Hundreds of suspects identified by the Home Office have been living in the UK for years with little or no prospect of prosecution or deportation.

In the last decade only one person has been arrested and prosecuted by the specialist Met officers dealing with war crimes. Of the 495 suspected war criminals identified by the Home Office between 2005 and 2010, only 19 have been deported with a further 18 leaving voluntarily.

Some of those suspects identified are innocent. But it is clear significant numbers of individuals of real concern to the Home Office have found a relatively comfortable passage through the UK's immigration system.

A refugee worker in Leeds, who is not being identified, has told the Yorkshire Post of his own knowledge of security force officers from an east African country who have obtained refugee status in the UK despite carrying out torture.

He said: "I know their names and I know their victims, here in the UK. One of the officers is living in London and has been in the UK for three years. One of his victims wanted to find him to fight with him."

The worker added that genuine refugees remain fearful of those who worked for brutal regimes, who have found their way to the UK, and who they believe may still be spying for those regimes with potentially dire consequences for any family members still in their original home country or themselves if they ever return home.

He said some war criminals will tend to isolate themselves.

"They don't have any contact with other people from the same community. They don't want people to know they are here."

The worker also confirmed suspected war criminals are living in Yorkshire and whose circumstances, like the hundreds of others, are well known to the Home Office.

Mr McCann, a Scottish MP who became chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity after entering Parliament last year, admitted he was shocked by the numbers of suspected war criminals in the UK.

He now wants more in-depth research into the scale of the problem to help policy-makers come up with proposals to improve the UK's current record.

Deportation difficulties

The generic term "war crimes" covers three areas – genocide, crimes against humanity as well as war crimes themselves – acts committed outside the normally accepted rules of war. Anyone going through the UK immigration system can be denied the right to remain if they are believed to have committed any offence covered by the term war crimes. Evidence gathering can prove difficult and deportation of suspected war criminals can be thwarted on human rights grounds.