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A woman has won a High Court appeal after £40,000 in cash, most of it apparently linked to gambling, was seized from her at Gatwick Airport under "proceeds of crime'' legislation.
In a ruling which could curb similar seizures in the future, two judges ruled the type of crime suspected of generating the money had not been sufficiently specified so as to justify its forfeiture.
Carol Angus, from Hong Kong, was stopped at the airport in December 2006, and a customs officer found the money in her handbag.
It was in 13 bundles, wrapped in a dust cover - £25,000 in Aspinalls Casino wrappings, £5,000 in Gala Casino wrappings and £10,000 unwrapped.
Lewes Crown Court in East Sussex dismissed an appeal by Ms Angus against a magistrates' court order that the cash should be forfeited under the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act.
Ms Angus, who has been living in the UK for a number of years, said at the airport the money was the repayment of a loan her property-owning mother had made to an uncle to open a restaurant in the UK.
But later her solicitor said in a letter that £30,000 of the money was repayment of a loan made by Ms Angus to Malaysian national Richard Yong, a keen gambler and frequent visitor to gambling clubs, including Aspinalls.
The money represented his winnings at Aspinalls and another club in November 2006, plus repayment of a separate loan made to a company director, Danny Yeung.
Upholding the forfeiture order, the crown court said Ms Angus's lies at the airport were ``persistent and detailed'', and the accounts later given of the origins of the cash by witnesses including Mr Yeung were not credible.
The court concluded there was ``an irresistible inference'' that the cash was ``property obtained through unlawful conduct''.
The recorder and justices said their inability to rely on any of the evidence called on Ms Angus's behalf ``demonstrates in our view the reason why HMRC are not required to specify the precise criminal activity alleged because cash leaves no trail.''
But today High Court judges Lord Justice Thomas and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies allowed Ms Angus's renewed appeal.
Mrs Justice Davies said the crown court decision was expressed in terms suggesting the money ``may well have been'' the proceeds of unidentified criminal activity.
She added: "It is most unfortunate that the court was not more clear cut in its findings.''
Ruling the cash forfeiture order under the 2002 Act was flawed, the judge said it was not sufficient for a customs officer to point to criminal conduct of an unspecified kind.
She ruled: "In a case of cash forfeiture, a customs officer does have to show that the property seized was obtained through conduct of one of a number of kinds, each of which would have been unlawful conduct''.
The judges will decide on what orders should be made in the light of their ruling at a later date.