Criminal Finances Bill proposed

bigbenA new Criminal Finances Bill was proposed in the Queen’s Speech at the opening of the new parliamentary year on 18 May 2016.  The new Bill is intended to assist in tackling corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

The Bill itself has not yet been published, but the Home Office have said that the Bill will allow the government to recoup more criminal assets by reforming the law on proceeds of crime, including provisions to strengthen enforcement powers and protect the public. It will also implement a more effective regime to support reporting of suspicious financial activity, make it easier to seize illicit funds and improve coordination between the public and private sectors to tackle criminal financial behaviour.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Finances Bill has now been published and an article on it appears HERE]

The bill will:

  • introduce a criminal offence for corporations who fail to stop their staff facilitating tax evasion;
  • improve the operation of the suspicious activity reports regime to encourage better use of public and private sector resources against the highest threats, to target entities that carry out money laundering instead of individual transactions, and to provide the National Crime Agency with new powers; and
  • improve the ability of law enforcement agencies and courts to recover criminal assets more effectively, particularly in cases such as those linked to grand corruption.

 

New offence

The new offence for corporations who fail to stop their staff facilitating tax evasion may have similarities to the offence committed by a commercial organisation which fails to prevent bribery.  That was a new offence introduced by s7 Bribery Act 2010.

The essence of the Bribery Act offence is that it occurs when a person associated with a relevant commercial organisation bribes another person with the intention of getting or keeping business, or an advantage in the conduct of business, for the organisation.

So it could be that the new offence will be committed by a corporation where a person working for the corporation facilitates the evasion of tax by the corporation itself or by another person.

My expectation would be that in this context (as in the case of the Bribery Act offence) the offender could be an incorporated company or a partnership and that a person working for the corporation could be widely defined and not limited to employees of the corporation (so as to include partners and self-employed ‘staff’ and agents instructed by the corporation).

So, for example, a firm of accountants, lawyers or tax advisers would commit the offence if it failed to prevent a person working for it facilitating tax evasion by a client of the firm.

Under existing legislation a person who is knowingly concerned in tax evasion commits an offence, but an incorporated body would not be subject to such prosecution unless the ‘controlling mind’ of the company were ‘knowingly concerned’ in the evasion and acting dishonestly.  The new offence will therefore place an incorporated body at risk of prosecution in a significantly wider range of circumstances.

Again it may be the case (as with the Bribery Act offence) that it would be a defence for the firm to show that it had in place adequate procedures designed to prevent persons working for it from undertaking such conduct.

The maximum penalty for the Bribery Act offence is an unlimited fine and a similar penalty may be prescribed for the proposed new offence.

 

Suspicious Activity Reports

A new focus for the Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) regime would be welcome.  Over 300,000 such reports are received by the National Crime Agency (NCA) each year.  The vast majority of these reports are from the High Street banks.  Some of these reports must be based on very limited information about the bank’s customer and his financial affairs.

A proportion of these reports will incorporate consent requests, meaning that the NCA need to urgently address the report as they have a statutory time limit requiring a response within 7 working days.  Yet these urgent cases may not be the most important matters to which the attention of the NCA should be directed.

We shall have to see what detailed proposals are in the Bill to shift the focus of SARs to encourage better use of public and private sector resources against the highest threats and to target entities that carry out money laundering instead of individual transactions.

 

Recovering criminal assets

The authorities recover criminal assets by confiscation under Part 2, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, and by civil recovery under Part 5 of the Act.  Broadly speaking, confiscation applies where a defendant has been convicted of an offence from which he has obtained a benefit and obliges him to pay a sum of money to the court (so the focus of confiscation is on the defendant); whereas civil recovery does not necessarily involve any criminal conviction but requires specified property to be forfeit to the state where that property is, or represents, proceeds of criminal conduct (so the focus of civil recovery is on the asset).

Confiscation law was subject to significant amendment relatively recently by the Serious Crime Act 2015.  It may be that the Criminal Finances Bill will concentrate on amendments to civil recovery law.

 

Conclusion

No doubt the Criminal Finances Bill is a topic to which we shall be repeatedly returning in this blog as matters develop over the coming months.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Finances Bill has now been published and an article on it appears HERE]

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 applicable in England and Wales. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

4 Responses to Criminal Finances Bill proposed
  1. Vada Meunier
    October 21, 2016 | 5:39 am

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this ok with you. Thanks!|

    • David Winch
      October 21, 2016 | 10:53 am

      OK. Note that within a few days I will be publishing a further article on the Criminal Finances Bill which will update this article & provide further information.

      David

  2. Dean Dyble
    April 7, 2017 | 8:16 pm

    I’m going through this nightmare with the Yorkshire Bank now, account has been frozen for seven working days, today bank phoned me to say it was unfrozen so I went into local branch to make a payment and organise my online log in again but whilst there they told me account had been frozen again. They have been paying my Direct Debits and up until today were engaging in conversation with me even though it was limited but now no one will talk to me. I’ve contacted the NCA but they can’t say anything and the ombudsman and my solicitor say it’s too soon to get involved. I’m stunned at this disgraceful situation and the law/system that allows it to happen.

    • David Winch
      April 7, 2017 | 9:54 pm

      As you will have seen I hope from my blog articles Bank account frozen and Criminal Finances Bill, there is a process by which at present a bank account may remain frozen for about 6 or 7 weeks – but the law is to be changed to allow this period to be increased by a maximum of an additional six months.
      David

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