Does the UK Government’s anti-corruption strategy go far enough or is it a missed opportunity?
Westminster has made some major progress in recent years in its attempts to fight corruption.
The Bribery Act 2010 and Criminal Finances Act 2017 were important pieces of legislation that focused on economic crime.
The UK was also the first G20 nation to create a public register of domestic company beneficial ownership, and the first G7 country to undergo an International Monetary Fund fiscal transparency evaluation.
In order to bolster the UK’s ability to tackle corruption, the UK Government recently announced plans for a National Economic Crime Centre (NECC).
It will have powers to instruct the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to investigate the worst cases of fraud, money laundering and corruption.
The NECC will be located within the National Crime Agency (NCA) and oversee the national police response to financial crime, with greater intelligence and analytical capabilities. It is part of a five-year anti-corruption strategy targeting greater transparency over who owns and controls businesses.
The strategy sets out a number of priorities, which include reducing the insider threat in high-risk domestic sectors, strengthening the integrity of the UK as a centre of global finance and promoting integrity across the public and private sectors.
With a clear eye on Brexit, the government hopes the NECC will be better equipped to respond to economic crime and, in theory, enhance the UK’s reputation as a global financial hub, while also encouraging new trading relationships.
So does the new strategy go far enough? Despite those people who argue the UK is already one of the safest places in the world to do business, up to £90billion continues to be laundered in Britain every year.
Regardless of the SFO’s recent successes, which include Deferred Prosecution Agreements totalling about £640million in financial penalties, including £500million alone for Rolls-Royce, the UK is still seen by many as a haven for dirty money.
Powers granted by the government to the NECC are not new – the NCA can already seek the SFO’s help in undertaking investigations – so this does not appear to be a particularly innovative, or far-reaching strategy.
The government also seems to have missed an opportunity to extend corporate criminal liability beyond bribery and tax evasion, which would have made it easier to prosecute those companies which have not done enough to prevent wrongdoing by their staff.
It is certainly questionable whether the creation of the NECC and the new strategy are enough to enhance the UK’s ability to tackle economic crimes. However, the government remains committed to at least demonstrating that it is focusing its response to economic crime across both the public and private sectors.
By Sean McAuley, senior fraud services manager at Anderson Anderson and Brown.