The UK government has found an extra £8M to help specialist anti-corruption teams and is looking to track down stolen assets across the Middle East. Anyone accused as a result of this latest initiative will need the best legal defence available.
It appears that the UK government is putting its money where its mouth has been for some time regarding overseas corruption.
Recently, it has been saying that transparency and accountability are key priorities. An extra £8M has now been found to help in the fight against corruption. Over the next three years, the money is set to go to specialist anti-corruption teams in the Metropolitan and City of London police forces, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and will also fund extra support for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Just a month ago, International Development Secretary Justine Greening was suggesting that extra support would be on its way for these organisations. It now appears that it is about to arrive.
The money will be used to target overseas corruption by UK citizens and those who launder money here before sending it abroad. It is intended as a way of preventing UK-based individuals and companies taking advantage of corrupt practices in developing countries. On a similar theme, the government has also announced that it is creating a task force of legal and investigative experts to help recover stolen assets from across the Middle East.
In making these announcements, Greening said: “When corruption happens in developing countries, it is the very poorest people in our world who foot the bill. Corruption is a dead weight which is holding countries and their people back.
“The UK government will not only work in countries to prevent public funds from being siphoned off or stolen – we will step up our efforts to combat corruption that uses our shores as a host.’’
The City of London Police’s Head of Economic Crime, Detective Chief Superintendent Oliver Shaw, has already said that the government support will help it prosecute some of the most “complex and significant’’ overseas bribery and corruption cases. He added that his force’s Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit was tackling “criminality originating from UK entities that transcends national boundaries and international borders and damages the distribution and application of development aid to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.’’ The Unit is set to receive £3.8M of the new funding to investigate allegations that UK companies and citizens are involved in overseas corruption, with special attention given to bribery. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit is to gain £3.4M to investigate allegations of corrupt foreign politicians or officials laundering money through the UK. SOCA’s £850,000 slice of the funding will go towards helping it gather better intelligence while the CPS is to be helped in its asset recovery operations in the UK.
The financial figures outlined here have, as expected, created a few headlines in the relevant media. But what is of most importance will be exactly how much effect it will have on attitudes to money laundering and the amount of success it has when it comes to raising the rates of detection and prosecution. Although there is no accurate figure for how much money is laundered through the UK or by its subjects, there is no doubt that the amounts can be very large in many cases. After all, the average individual or company will not take the risk unless the rewards on offer are sizeable. What has to be remembered, however, is that the punishments can also be very high.
At Rahman Ravelli, we regularly defend those suspected of money laundering. We are frequently dealing with the City of London Police on a number of such cases and with many other national and international organisations, due largely to the international nature of such allegations. As ever, the crucial factor when defending yourself against a money laundering allegation is to work out the best way of establishing your innocence as early as possible. Such allegations can be complex and involved and it is important to be able to not only mount the strongest defence – any legal team must be able to call on all manner of resources to establish a client’s innocence, whether it be documentary evidence, witness testimony or the use of expert analysis such as forensic accountants. Calling for full disclosure of all accounts, audit trails and other evidence that the prosecution has obtained (regardless of whether it believes it is relevant) is an essential tactic in devising the best possible defence.
The influx of new money into the agencies that tackle corruption is coming from the government on the understanding that results will follow. Money laundering legislation is complex and will now be used intensively by these agencies, who now have every incentive to push for more prosecutions. These organisations are now more adept at ever at working with similar agencies abroad, have the ability to utilise technology and covert surveillance techniques to monitor suspects and, as we have discussed, have a bigger budget to play with. Bearing all this in mind, it is vital that businesses take precautions to avoid being involved - wittingly or unwittingly – in money laundering schemes. At Rahman Ravelli, our experience has led us to believe firmly that claiming accidental involvement in money laundering is way short of being a strong defence. Knowing the law and acting in accordance with it is the best way of staying blame free. And if that, for whatever reason, still arouses the interest of the authorities, it at least gives you the basis for a strong defence case.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), there are three main money laundering offences which carry up to 14 years imprisonment. Section 327 relates to the concealing, disguising, converting or transferring of criminal property or the removing of it from jurisdiction. This is arguably the easiest way for prosecutors to prove self laundering – that a person laundered the proceeds of their own criminal activity. Section 329 makes it an offence to acquire, use or have possession of criminal property. This tends to cover cases where, for example, a person buys a house or car from a criminal, who originally paid for it using the proceeds of crime. Section 328 makes it illegal to enter into, or become concerned in, an arrangement to facilitate the acquisition, use or control by or on behalf of another person, of criminal property, knowing or suspecting that it is criminal property. This section is most relevant to people who are laundering money for someone else. Criminal property is defined in Section 340 (3) of the Act as property that represents a benefit from criminal conduct, as long as the launderer knows or suspects that the property represents such a benefit.
The CPS, which is one of the agencies set to receive extra cash to help tackle money laundering and corruption, sees money laundering as involving three stages: The process of getting criminal money into the financial system (placement), moving it around the system via a complex series of transactions (layering) and the eventual absorption of it into the economy through investment (integration). There can be little doubt that all three stages are now going to come under greater scrutiny in many cases, as the agencies look to produce results for the government that has invested more money in them. With such agencies now also able to call on the provisions of the Bribery Act when looking to hold people to account for corruption overseas, it seems that the authorities hold more aces than they used to. Whether this means an improved conviction rate remains to be seen. But, if nothing else, this new investment, makes it even more important that a defence team sees all available evidence when putting together their client’s case.