POLICE are gearing up for a wide-ranging crackdown on previously untouchable crime lords, armed with sweeping new powers to fight triads and organised syndicates. A new law aimed at getting tough with the laundering of criminal proceeds - including multi-million-dollar 'legitimate' investments made by triad gangs such as the Sun Yee On - is set to be passed next month. As part of the force's preparations, two teams of detectives from the Narcotics Bureau's Financial Investigation Group (FIG) will be attached to the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) from this week. They will be targeting top triads and crime syndicates which have otherwise been out of reach, and zeroing in to seize their assets. The Organised and Serious Crimes Bill, which has been under review for more than two years since it was first introduced in 1992, is due to go before the Legislative Council on October 12 for its second and final readings. Legislator James To Kun-sun said the administration and an ad hoc committee set up to review the proposed bill had reached a consensus on the majority of its contents and predicted it would be accepted next month. 'We need this bill to pierce through the wall of silence of triad elements and syndicates,' he said. 'And we need the power to confiscate proceeds of crime. This is very important.' When approved, the law will give the police sweeping investigative powers to deal with the activities of triads, organised crime syndicates and loan sharks, all of whom have been able to retain their illegally obtained profits until now. The bill, which contains 70 amendments and is believed to have been under 'consideration' longer than any other law, will also provide for the confiscation of crime proceeds. According to one officer, the OCTB is seen as the lead agency that will enforce the new legislation although the whole force will benefit from its powers. The two police teams, each comprising four officers, will specialise in tracking laundered assets through complex paper trails often disguised by the use of false names, front companies and legitimate deals. 'One of the main weapons is asset recovery,' one detective said. 'Because if you can't get the money off them, they will continue.' The swiftness of the move, which was only announced internally this month, indicates recent behind-the-scenes developments. As a result, 'targets' have yet to be identified for investigation. However, FIG officers will work with a training unit in OCTB to teach anti-triad detectives how to track down criminal assets, and how to analyse financial data. This will lead to an exchange of information with local and overseas banking institutions and law enforcement agencies as intelligence is built up on white-collar suspects. The force already has the power to confiscate assets derived from narcotics under the Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds) Ordinance, although there have been few seizures recently. In the past, the police have been hamstrung when investigating large cases such as that of convicted loan shark Wong Kai-fun, who had nearly 1,000 government staff on his books. Clause 27 of the bill allows the prosecution to ask for heavier sentencing on the basis of information supplied to the trial judge on the criminal record and background of a defendant that would not be admissible as evidence. The bill will also give police extensive powers to compel witnesses, victims and accomplices to provide information or risk being jailed for up to a year for not co-operating. The force is also in the process of reviewing and upgrading its witness protection programme, in particular overseas placement of people under threat. A witness security unit will begin operating from December, staffed by 100 police officers and with an annual budget of $1 million to cover items such as safe houses.