Tainted gifts – valuation and consequences

Tainted giftAllegations of tainted gifts can cause serious problems for a defendant in confiscation proceedings. But what are those problems and how is a ‘tainted gift’ valued? In this second article on tainted gifts I explore these issues.

I have considered what is meant by a tainted gift in an earlier blog post.

The value of a tainted gift

Valuing a tainted gift is not entirely straightforward.  The starting point is that value means ‘market value’, s79 PoCA 2002. It is reasonable to suggest that ‘market value’ means the open market value as between a willing buyer and a willing seller, each of whom is fully informed about the asset.

But the statute goes on to deal specifically with the value of tainted gifts, s81. This says that the value of the tainted gift at the “material time” is the GREATER of (i) the value at the time of the gift (adjusted to take account of later changes in the value of money), or (ii) the value at the “material time”.

The expression “material time” is not defined in s81, but is used in s80 to mean the time when the court makes its decision (in other words the time at which the confiscation order is made or varied). The only sensible interpretation is that “material time” has the same meaning in s81.

So let’s consider a couple of examples.  Suppose a defendant has made a tainted gift of a new car to his wife, some years ago. At the time he purchased the car for £25,000. That is the market value of the car when the gift was made. Today the car, which the wife still has, is worth £15,000.  Then the value of the tainted gift is £25,000 (uplifted for inflation) because that is the greater of the two values.

Take another example, some years ago a defendant bought a house for £300,000 and gave it to his son. That is the market value of the house when the gift was made. Today the house, which the son still has, is worth £400,000. Then the value of the tainted gift is £400,000 because that is the greater of the two values (assuming that when the £300,000 is uplifted for inflation it does not exceed £400,000).

What about assets which go up and down in value, like shares in a listed company? Only two values matter for this purpose – the value at the time the gift is made and the value at the ‘material time’. The court should ignore the value at other times.

What if the gift has now become worthless? Case law tells us that even where the asset gifted no longer has any value the tainted gift will have value if the asset gifted had a value when the gift was made, see R v Johnson [2016] EWCA Crim 10. This again is because the greater value is the one to be adopted by the court.

But what if the recipient of the gift no longer has it, or has only part of it? In this case s81 provides that the court should value any asset which the recipient has which directly or indirectly represents the asset gifted to him.  If he has part of the asset, then what the court will value will be the part which he has plus any other asset which he has which directly or indirectly represents the other part.

Suppose a defendant has a valuable collection of rare postage stamps, which he gives to his daughter.  She keeps some of the stamps, sells some for £10,000 and swaps some of the stamps for some from another collector.  The court will need to know (i) the value of the collection at the time of the gift (uplifted for inflation since the date of the gift), and (ii) the current value of the stamps from the original collection which the daughter still has, plus £10,000 (uplifted for inflation since the date of the sale) for the stamps she sold, plus the current value of the stamps she received from the swaps. The value of the tainted gift will be the greater of (i) or (ii).

Finally let us consider the situation in which the defendant has gifted an asset to someone but there is simply no information before the court as to what has become of that asset since the gift.  In this case the court cannot say whether the recipient still has the asset, or any part of it, or any other asset which represents it. In such a case it appears that the court should simply value the gift at the time it was made (and uplift that for inflation), see R v Box [2018] EWCA Crim 542 at paragraph [7].


The effect of a tainted gift on available amount

It is beyond doubt that the value of a tainted gift must be added into the defendant’s ‘available amount’, s9. So the tainted gift increases the defendant’s ‘available amount’ and this may have the effect of increasing the amount the defendant is ordered to pay under the confiscation order.

This will be the case whether or not the defendant is in a position to recover the value of the gift from the recipient, as is underlined in the case of Johnson – to which reference has already been made.

In relation to the court’s power to appoint a receiver, s83 provides that property held by the recipient of a tainted gift is ‘realisable property’ which means that the court can appoint a receiver under s50 with the powers over the recipient’s property set out in s51. These may include power to sell assets belonging to the recipient in order to recover for the court the value of the tainted gift, to assist in satisfying the confiscation order.

Whether the making of a confiscation order with such drastic consequences would be ‘disproportionate’ in the sense referred to in s6(5) will depend upon the facts of the individual case. However such an order would not typically be regarded as disproportionate (even where it would cause hardship) because the main purpose of the legislation is to recover the value of the benefit of the convicted defendant’s criminal conduct and the order would be directed toward that aim.

In these circumstances it would not be necessary for a receiver to identify particular assets of the recipient which were, or represented, the assets gifted by the defendant as all the recipient’s assets are ‘realisable property’.

Where a court was satisfied that the ‘available amount’, including the tainted gift, was truly irrecoverable it may be appropriate for the court to set a lower default sentence, see Johnson at paragraph 31(iii).


The effect of a tainted gift on benefit

The effect of a tainted gift on benefit is less clear cut.

Where the defendant has purchased an asset, such as an item of jewellery, and made a gift of that asset then the purchase cost will be ‘expenditure incurred by the defendant’ which may be caught by the expenditure assumption of s10(4). Where the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle’ that will lead to an increase in benefit unless the assumption can be rebutted by evidence or the court considers that there would be a serious risk of injustice if the assumption were made. But that is a consequence of purchasing the asset – not a consequence of gifting it.

What about the situation in which a gift is made but no expenditure is incurred by the defendant? This was the situation in the Johnson case referred to above. In that case the defendant had gifted a house which was subject to a mortgage. The defendant considered the house to be worth £140,000 but transferred it to her daughter for only £120,000. She therefore had made a gift of £20,000. The defendant had a ‘criminal lifestyle’ and the gift was made after the ‘relevant day’.

The gift was therefore a tainted gift. But the property had originally been purchased many years earlier for £69,000. The tainted gift comprised part of the appreciation in value of the house. There was no expenditure incurred by the defendant in connection with making this gift.

However it appears that the Crown Court considered that this gift had the effect of increasing both the defendant’s ‘available amount’ and her benefit. The defendant appealed in connection with the increase in her ‘available amount’. The appeal was dismissed.

In the course of the judgment the Court of Appeal said this:

“However, it [the asset] was not alleged to be the proceeds of crime. The asset (equity in the house) had been acquired by the appellant because she held the property while it appreciated in value. There was no evidence that she had bought the house with the proceeds of crime. It was brought into account for the purposes of confiscation because of the criminal lifestyle and tainted gift provisions. The combined effect of these is to treat an asset as proceeds of crime even though it was not. The justification for this is described above. The appellant would not have been able to make a gift of £20,000 if she had not been benefiting from a criminal lifestyle and therefore the Act treats it as if it were the proceeds of crime.”

This suggests that where the prosecution can show that the defendant would not have been able to make the tainted gift if he had not been benefiting from a ‘criminal lifestyle’ the value of the tainted gift may become an element in benefit.

I have to say that I have been unable to find any basis for that in the wording of the legislation. It might also be suggested that, as the Johnson appeal concerned ‘available amount’ rather than benefit, this comment was obiter dictum.

I have not been able to find any other case law, or any statute law, directly on this point. This may be a matter that the courts will revisit at some point in the future.

In other circumstances it would appear that the making of a tainted gift does not, of itself, generate any benefit for the purposes of confiscation. There is no direct reference to a ‘tainted gift’ in the ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions of s10 or any other section dealing with the quantification of the benefit obtained by a defendant.

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(Note: This article applies to confiscation proceedings under the provisions of Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales. There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to a defendant’s confiscation proceedings in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in a relatively short article such as this. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

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