Police are urging legislators to plug a loophole that enables money laundering and fraud suspects to hide dirty cash after their arrest. A lag of months between making an arrest and laying charges is allowing suspects - including those involved in organised crime, loan sharking and London gold scams - to hide illicit money. However, legislators are wary of extending police powers to restrain assets, dubbing a wish-list 'Draconian' in the latest clash over Hong Kong's battered money-laundering bill. The Government seeks in the Drug Trafficking and Organised Crimes (Amendment) Bill to empower law enforcers to freeze the assets of suspects after an arrest is made. Police have power to restrain assets only when charges have been laid, or by seeking a special interim order from a judge to hold the money pending charges. However, the assets must be more than HK$100,000. It is often the case that police raids will unearth criminal activity but the suspects hide the cash as soon as they are freed on bail, a bills committee hearing was told yesterday. 'I would say that the whole thing behind a restraining order is taking the money away from criminals so they can't enjoy the proceeds of crime,' Superintendent Stephen Tarrant, of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, said. 'This is a massive loophole at the moment. There will be people adversely affected . . . thousands of people have been cheated of their savings.' If a judge refuses to extend a restraint order, police are often forced to proceed with a prosecution before they are ready, Mr Tarrant said. Narcotics bureau Acting Chief Superintendent Sin Kam-wah told legislators: 'We see dozens, hundreds of victims. They will point their fingers at us.' Legislator Eric Li Ka-cheung was nevertheless wary. 'We are worried about fishing expeditions,' he said. Suspects who turned out to be innocent would be unfairly disadvantaged. Legislator and barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: 'There is no protection given to the person who is suspected. You can't say this is being done for the public interest. This is something that is very Draconian. It is against principle. It is against the protection of individual property rights.' She urged the administration to rethink its position and state exactly what the situation is when police apply for restraining orders. Legislator James To Kun-sun said the bills committee would require further information. 'I don't know if we are going to consider it from a legal point of view or an administrative point of view.'