Strict measures to tackle white-collar crime are urgently needed
THE dramatic resignation of Lord Theodore Agnew from the House of Lords towards the end of January has thrown renewed attention on corruption, financial and economic crime and fraud.
Lord Agnew, a Conservative Treasury and Cabinet minister responsible for ‘anti-fraud’ and intergovernmental efficiency, has quit the government over his decision to write off more than £4.3billion in loans Fraudulent Covid.
While the controversy around these pandemic support programs and ensuring much-needed money gets to businesses as soon as possible during the pandemic (often taking priority over due diligence) has been the touchstone of Lord Agnew’s resignation, it brought fraud to light. , corruption and economic crime more generally.
The Government’s decision to drop (or at least delay) the so-called Economic Crimes Bill was also cited by Lord Agnew in his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, calling the decision ‘stupid’.
Pressure is now mounting on the government to commit to reintroducing this legislation which will properly tackle economic crime.
The bill was expected to propose measures to improve oversight of the UK’s business register, Companies House, and finally set up a public register of beneficial ownership of assets – revealing the people behind the offshore companies used to hold assets. valuable homes and land in the UK.
An economic crime bill would help, say transparency and anti-corruption campaigners, to tackle the role of the UK – and in particular London – as a “global hub of corruption”. dirty money “. It is clear that white collar crime in the UK and Ireland is on the rise, including in Northern Ireland.
This legislation would be essential to combat economic and financial crimes such as fraud, corruption, bribery and money laundering, and would in turn strengthen our economy and increase confidence in our economic institutions and systems. .
While exact data is sparse for Northern Ireland, a problem in itself, PwC’s latest Economic Crime Survey found that more than half of Irish businesses have been victims of economic crime in the past 24 months. , while 13% of respondents said they had lost more than 5 million euros. to fraud during the same period. However, perhaps most worryingly, a fifth of businesses said they did not know how much they had lost to economic crime.
It is positive that the Law Commission, which reviews legislation and recommends reforms where necessary, has confirmed that it is proceeding with its proposals to reform UK criminal liability laws, which are due to be published this spring. If white collar crime is to be treated as the serious crime it is, a strong legislative framework is needed to deal with it.
International scandals like the recent conviction of Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, which defrauded millions of dollars from investors, have thrust white-collar crime back into the public consciousness.
Corporate greed, corruption and fraud – which have traditionally been portrayed as victimless crimes – can have a huge impact on our local economy and businesses.
A comprehensive economic crime bill would go a long way to addressing these issues and giving authorities the tools to properly punish the worst offenders.
:: Matthew Howse is a Dispute Resolution and Litigation Partner Eversheds Sutherland