Bribery Act & Proceeds of Crime - Written by on Thursday, June 12, 2014 0:22 - 0 Comments

BREAKING: UK govt. wholesale review of anti-bribery and white collar crime enforcement

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Ken-ClarkeThe FT reports that the Home Office and Cabinet Office are setting up a cross departmental working group to review the bodies that are charged with investigating and prosecuting bribery, fraud and other white collar offences.

The Serious Fraud Office, National Crime Agency, FCA and City Of London Police Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit are all reported to be under review.

World leader

The FT quotes Ken Clarke QC MP (Anti- Corruption Champion & Minister without Portfolio) as being behind the move and quotes him as saying:

“We want to be satisfied that we are among the countries with the highest standards in the world because it enforces the reputation of the City of London and the legal system in this country,” 

SFO under attack?

It is notable that the Attorney General’s office is not one of those kicking off the review.  The UK Attorney General’s Office is responsible for the UK Serious Fraud Office.  The SFO was previously the subject of a sustained attempt by the Home Office to disband it and bring the responsibility for investigating serious crime under the wing of the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service.  Some will see this as another attempt to do the same.

The move follows a number of recent financial scandals and a number of high profile investigations into blue chip companies against a backdrop where some have questioned the UK’s appetite to investigate and prosecute financial crime after significant law enforcement budget cuts and a lack of prosecutions.

Intelligence sharing 

The FT reports that Mr. Clarke also said that the review would consider the collection and sharing of intelligence.

Mr Clarke said the review will look at how well the various bodies share information.

This comes in the wake of a 67% drop in the number of intelligence packs created by the National Crime Agency to be circulated to other law enforcement bodies in connection with international corruption to 82 out of around 10,000 (just .5%) suspicious activity reports filed with the agency.

Likewise, some have questioned the set up whether the Serious Fraud Office and City Of London Police both tasked with investigating serious fraud and overseas corruption is an efficient and joined up approach or whether it in fact creates an unhelpful divide.  Anecdotally we understand that at a recent international get together of anti-corruption enforcement Police investigators, including those from other countries police forces, held in London by the City of London Police the Serious Fraud Office was conspicuous by its absence.

It’s all about the money

Mr. Clarke also telegraphed a potential significant increase in the budget for investigating white collar crime saying:

“We will have to face up to the fact that we will have to look at funding…the one difficulty with enforcing really serious frauds of international significance is that they are hugely expensive and costly to investigate and prosecute.”  

Another topic also reported to be under review is the possible ‘amendment of the Bribery Act’ to include a new corporate offence of ‘failure to prevent fraud’ in an attempt to overcome present difficulties to prosecuting corporates because of the high evidential burden.

In a no doubt coordinated move Theresa May, the Home Office minister yesterday said that “for too long” the UK had “not taken economic crime seriously”

Opinion

We welcome the review.  Theresa May is right for too long the UK has not taken the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime seriously with the obvious consequence that white collar criminals don’t take the risk of enforcement seriously.  Put another way, the deterrent effect is missing.

The UK approach to investigating and prosecuting white collar crime has been spotty with limited resources, budgetary cuts and the absence of a joined up approach.

At the same time the UK Serious Fraud Office, the media’s focal point for the work, has been the subject of vicious budget cuts and suffered a variety of high profile setbacks in recent years.  David Green, the Director of the SFO is doing his best to change that.  The SFO needs some good results and quickly.

In the meantime, it is right that the focus of attention should be the job of investigating and prosecuting white collar crime not the agencies which are charged with performing that task.

This work must undertaken in a coordinated and efficient way.

Failure to grasp the nettle is in no-one’s interest.  White collar crime damages the reputation of UK PLC and creates an uneven playing field at a cost of billions and a much wider social cost.

 

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