Category Archives: Forensic accountant

Forensic accountant

Alleged possession of criminal property

Police lamp copyright David Winch 2014Pete and Tony both worked for Snodsby Council as care workers at the Flower Dew Home.  This was supported accommodation for four adults with learning difficulties, who would not be capable of living independently or managing their personal finances.  Pete and Tony had worked there for years and had become friends.

Part of their role was to take residents on trips out to local shops and attractions where the residents could spend their own funds, withdrawn for the purpose from safe custody at the home. It was permissible for the residents to purchase items for themselves and even spend small amounts on gifts for the staff – an ice cream for example.  After each trip the care workers were obliged to account for the expenditures of the residents’ monies.

But one day an allegation was made that Pete had been stealing cash from the residents. After a local authority investigation a report was prepared which alleged that, as well as stealing their cash, Pete had been spending excessive amounts on trips out.  In effect Pete was alleged to have been treating himself and Tony on these trips, taking improper advantage of the residents’ vulnerability by using their money inappropriately.

 

Investigations

Pete and Tony were interviewed by council staff, including a manager Mr Justin Thyme.  Pete immediately admitted that he had taken some money.  Following those interviews the matter was referred to the police and both Pete and Tony were arrested and interviewed under caution by Detective Constable Arthur Crabtree.

DC Crabtree drew up a schedule of amounts drawn by Pete from residents’ monies between August 2013 and October 2014.  DC Crabtree called these “unaccounted withdrawals”.

Then DC Crabtree obtained copies of bank account statements for both Pete and Tony from their banks.  He looked for cash deposits into Pete’s and Tony’s bank accounts over the same period.  He put these deposits onto his schedule, which he called ABC/1.

The schedule showed total “unaccounted withdrawals” of £12,621 from residents’ monies between August 2013 and October 2014.  Over the same period there were cash deposits, which DC Crabtree called “unsourced deposits”, of £12,249 in Pete’s bank accounts.  In that same period there were also bank transfers of £7,960 from Pete’s bank accounts to Tony’s.

 

Charges

In due course Pete was charged with theft of a total of £10,221 from the four residents of Flower Dew Home, contrary to s1 Theft Act 1968.  Pete was also charged with possession of criminal property of £12,249 in money (which was the total amount of cash he had banked) contrary to s329 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and concealing criminal property of £7,960 in money (which was the total amount of the bank transfers to Tony) contrary to s327 of the same Act.

Tony was charged with possessing criminal property of £7,960 in money (which was the amount transferred from Pete’s bank accounts to his) contrary to s329 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Pete pleaded guilty to all the charges he faced and was sentenced.

Tony pleaded not guilty to the single charge he faced.  The matter was referred to the Crown Court and a trial date was fixed.

 

An ‘open and shut’ case?

One might think that Tony was certain to be convicted because Pete had already pleaded guilty to concealing criminal property of the £7,960 which he had transferred to Tony.  But matters are not that straightforward.  Pete might have been advised to plead guilty to all the charges he faced rather than risk further investigations by the council or the police and to get the maximum reduction in sentence from an early guilty plea.  Because Pete had pleaded guilty the prosecution evidence had not been challenged in court by Pete’s legal team.

The court was not entitled to assume that because Pete had pleaded guilty, Tony must also be guilty.  Added to that, even if Pete was guilty of concealing criminal property of £7,960 by transferring it to Tony, it should not automatically follow that Tony would be guilty of possessing criminal property by receiving that money – that would depend, amongst other things, on whether Tony suspected or knew the money was proceeds of crime.

 

Possible defences

Tony’s legal team were aware of four alternative possible reasons why he might be found not guilty of the offence of which he had been charged.

These were

  1. the £7,960 was not proceeds of crime, or
  2. the £7,960 was proceeds of crime, but Tony neither knew nor suspected that, or
  3. the £7,960 was repayment of monies Tony had previously lent to Pete, or
  4. the £7,960 transferred into Tony’s bank account was not money which was in Tony’s “possession”.

 

Our instructions

Tony’s solicitors instructed us to consider the prosecution evidence, including exhibit ABC/1 – DC Crabtree’s schedule of “unaccounted withdrawals”, “unsourced deposits” and bank transfers from Pete to Tony – in relation to possible reasons 1 and 3 and to prepare an expert witness report suitable to be served in evidence.  If necessary we would attend Tony’s trial and give oral evidence.

 

Our work

We prepared a fee estimate which was approved by the Legal Aid Agency.  Then we set to work.

The first thing we did was to attempt to verify all the entries on exhibit ABC/1 to supporting bank statements or other documentary evidence supplied by the prosecution.

The documents presented to us by our instructing solicitors were the prosecution bundle which included witness statements from DC Crabtree and the council manager Mr Thyme and the bank statements of Pete’s and Tony’s which DC Crabtree had obtained – but did not include any accounting records of Flower Dew Home relating to residents’ monies (which had been referred to by Mr Thyme in his witness statement) nor the transcripts of the interviews DC Crabtree had held with Pete and Tony.  Also there was no prosecution case summary in the bundle nor any documents from the plea and trial preparation hearing.

 

The prosecution case

Our understanding was that the prosecution case was that the “unaccounted withdrawals” were monies stolen from residents (although Mr Thyme’s witness statement said that there had been inappropriate spending on trips out – but not that the entirety of the monies drawn were stolen), that the “unsourced deposits” were stolen cash banked by Pete into his account, and that the bank transfers to Tony were funded from the “unsourced deposits” (and hence were monies stolen by Pete).

 

Our findings

We were not able to confirm that the “unaccounted withdrawals” were stolen monies (although they might be) because we had not seen the records of Flower Dew Home and because Mr Thyme’s witness statement suggested that only part of the monies withdrawn were stolen or used inappropriately on gifts or treats for Pete and Tony.

We were able to identify on exhibit ABC/1 the particular withdrawals making up the £10,221 which Pete had admitted to stealing, but we could find no reason why Pete had not been charged with the theft of the whole of the unaccounted withdrawals of £12,621 listed on exhibit ABC/1.  It seemed that some withdrawals on the list may simply have been omitted from the theft charges on the indictment in error.

We were able to identify the deposits totalling £12,249 on Pete’s bank account statements and the bank transfers of £7,960 from Pete’s bank accounts to Tony’s on both Pete’s and Tony’s bank statements.

Chart of withdrawals v deposits

But when we looked at the detail of the dates and amounts of the “unaccounted withdrawals” and “unsourced deposits” on exhibit ABC/1 we found that although the total of the withdrawals (the alleged cash stolen) of £12,621 and Pete’s bank deposits of £12,249 were very similar, the timing and pattern of the alleged thefts and the bank deposits did not tie up.

We prepared a graph of the “unaccounted withdrawals” and “unsourced deposits”, day by day, which illustrated the mismatch between the two.  This showed that at least some of the bank deposits occurred before the cash thefts admitted by Pete, which meant that those deposits cannot have related to the thefts in question.

It also became clear that Pete had at least one account with another bank – and those other bank statements had not been obtained by DC Crabtree.  So the picture we had of Pete’s financial affairs was incomplete and, in our opinion at least, some of the inferences drawn by DC Crabtree were therefore not reliable.

 

Pete’s legitimate income

It seemed that until January 2014 Pete’s monthly salary had been paid by bank transfer from Snodsby Council into the bank account examined by DC Crabtree.  There was a pattern of Pete transferring most of his salary out of this account into his account with the other bank soon after he was paid each month.  Then there seemed to be a series of smaller transfers back to this account, presumably when Pete needed spending money.

After January 2014 there were no salary credits from Snodsby Council, but the transfers into the account from the other bank continued.  We inferred from this that from February 2014 onwards Pete’s monthly salary had been credited to his account with the other bank (although neither ourselves nor DC Crabtree had seen any bank statements for that account).

It had not been suggested that Pete’s monthly salary was proceeds of any crime.

 

The monies transferred to Tony

We then looked at the timing of the transfers from Pete’s bank account to Tony’s and the credits to Pete’s account immediately before those transfers, to see how far, on a practical level, the transfers to Tony seemed to be funded from the “unsourced deposits” into Pete’s account.

We found that more often than not the transfers to Tony seemed to be more closely related to Pete’s monthly salary credits or to monies Pete had transferred into his account from his account at the other bank.  Of the £7,960 transferred to Tony only £250 looked to be more closely related to “unsourced deposits” than other credits to Pete’s account.

 

Tony’s loans to Pete

Finally we looked to see if, outside the indictment period of August 2013 to October 2014, there were transfers of monies between Pete and Tony.  Tony had told his solicitors that he had often lent money to his friend Pete and been paid back over time, so there was nothing unusual in Pete transferring money into his bank account.  We did find evidence of such money transfers, in both directions, both before August 2013 and after October 2014.

That finding supported Tony’s evidence in that respect.  It also strengthened the possibility that the transfers from Pete to Tony were repayments of earlier informal loans from Tony to Pete.

 

Our report and its impact

We prepared a formal expert witness report and submitted it to Tony’s solicitors.  They in turn served copies on the prosecution and the Crown Court.

A little while later the prosecution indicated to Tony’s solicitors that they would not continue with the prosecution of Tony and in due course he was formally acquitted of the charge.

So a prosecution case which at first sight might have appeared to be overwhelming had proved on detailed examination to be full of holes.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article refers to a criminal prosecution in England and Wales. There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to criminal proceedings in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in an article such as this. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case. Names and certain other details have been changed in this article in order to preserve client confidentiality.)

Piercing the corporate veil in confiscation

impostorPiercing the corporate veil in confiscation has a long history, but there is nothing expressly on the subject in Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (which deals with confiscation in England and Wales).  Instead the approach to piercing the corporate veil in confiscation is based on long established English legal principles and caselaw of more general application.

It is perhaps not unreasonable to suppose that if a criminal attempts to sidestep his responsibility for his criminal actions by interposing a company through which to commit his crimes then the courts should be able to ‘look through’ the company to the underlying reality of the situation.

On the other hand there is a long established legal principle that a company is a legal entity which is distinct from its directors and shareholders.

This article attempts to trace recent developments in piercing the corporate veil in caselaw in respect of confiscation and to suggest some practical implications of the present-day legal position in England and Wales.

WARNING – THIS IS A LENGTHY BLOG POST – IN EXCESS OF 6,000 WORDS

  1. Salomon v A Salomon and Co Ltd 1896
  2. Gilford Motor Co Ltd v Horne 1933
  3. Lazarus Estates Ltd v Beasley 1956
  4. HMRC v Hare 1996
  5. R v Dimsey and Allen 1999
  6. CPS v Jennings 2008
  7. R v Seager and Blatch 2009
  8. Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd 2013
  9. R v Sale 2013
  10. McDowell and Singh v R 2015
  11. Boyle Transport (NI) Ltd v R 2016
  12. A clear and coherent picture?
  13. Practical implications

 

Salomon v A Salomon and Co Ltd 1896

Consideration of the corporate veil in the law of England and Wales has to start with the 1896 decision of the House of Lords (as the UK Supreme Court was known until relatively recently) in the case of Salomon v A Salomon and Co Ltd [1896] UKHL 1, [1897] AC 22.

This was not a criminal case, it was a case involving the insolvency of a limited company.  At that time company law (based on the Companies Act of 1862) required that a limited company must have at least seven shareholders in order to be legally constituted.  A Salomon and Co Ltd was duly incorporated with seven shareholders, one of whom was Mr Aron Salomon.  The remaining shareholders were Mr Salomon’s wife and five of his grown up children.

Mr Salomon had operated a successful sole trader business as leather merchant and boot and shoe manufacturer for many years.  He transferred this business to the newly formed company and in exchange received the vast majority of the shares in the company in part payment and obtained a debenture creating a charge over the assets of the company in respect of other monies due to him.

The result was that Mr Salomon become both the majority shareholder and a secured creditor of the company which carried on the business which he had formerly carried on in his own name.

Shortly after the business had been transferred to the company there appears to have been a downturn in the boot and shoe trade.  The company lost contracts and found itself with unsaleable stock.

When the business failed the company’s liquidator took legal action claiming that the arrangement had been, in general terms, a fraud designed to allow Mr Salomon to carry on his own business and reap the profits for himself but with protection from his creditors.  The liquidator claimed monies off Mr Salomon for the benefit of those creditors.  In court the business was described as a ‘one man’ company and it was suggested that the company was simply an agent of Mr Salomon, or alternatively that the relationship between Mr Salomon and the company was one of trustee and beneficiary.

The Court of Appeal considered that the objective of companies’ legislation was to facilitate the coming together of a group of people in business.  That was not what had happened here.  Indeed the Court of Appeal went as far as to say that “Mr Aron Salomon’s scheme is a device to defraud creditors”.

Whilst the Court of Appeal had found in favour of the liquidator the House of Lords reversed that decision, holding that A Salomon and Co Ltd was a properly constituted company and a distinct legal entity.  On the incorporation of the limited company proper procedures had been followed in accordance with the letter of the law.  There had been no fraud.

In consequence, the House of Lords held, Mr Salomon was entitled to the protection of limited liability and was not liable to meet the claims of the company’s creditors.

 

Gilford Motor Co Ltd v Horne 1933

Perhaps the first well known case in which the court pierced the corporate veil is Gilford Motor Co Ltd v Horne [1933] Ch 935.

Mr EB Horne had been the managing director of the Gilford Motor Co.  His contract of employment precluded him being engaged in any competing business in a specified geographical area for five years after the end of his employment “either solely or jointly with or as agent for any other person, firm or company”.

He left Gilford and carried on a competing business in the specified area, initially in his own name.  He then formed a company, JM Horne & Co Ltd, named after his wife, in which she and a business associate were shareholders.  The trial judge found that the company had been set up in this way to enable the business to be carried on under his own control but without incurring liability for breach of the covenant not to compete with his former employer.

However the reality, in the judge’s view, was that the company was being used as “the channel through which the defendant Mr Horne was carrying on his business.”

The company was restrained by the court in order to ensure that Mr Horne was deprived of the benefit which he might otherwise have derived from the separate legal personality of the company.

It does not follow that JM Horne & Co Ltd was to be identified with Mr Horne for any other purpose.  Mr Horne’s personal creditors would not, for example, have been entitled simply by virtue of the facts found by the court to enforce their claims against the assets of the company.

In short, Mr Horne was found to have created the company in order to evade his own pre-existing legal obligation not to compete with his former employer.  In those circumstances the court pierced the corporate veil to prevent Mr Horne from benefiting by abusing the separate legal personality of the new company.

 

Lazarus Estates Ltd v Beasley 1956

The case of Lazarus Estates Ltd v Beasley [1956] 1 QB 702 was not a case focussing on the corporate veil.

But it is an important and relevant case because of the famous dictum of Lord Denning in that case:-

“No court in this land will allow a person to keep an advantage which he has obtained by fraud.  No judgment of a court, no order of a Minister, can be allowed to stand if it has been obtained by fraud.  Fraud unravels everything.  The court is careful not to find fraud unless it is distinctly pleaded and proved; but once it is proved, it vitiates judgments, contracts and all transactions whatsoever…”

This illustrates a broader principle governing cases in which the benefit of some apparently absolute legal principle has been obtained by dishonesty.  The authorities show that there are limited circumstances in which the law treats the use of a company as a means of evading the law as dishonest for this purpose.

 

HMRC v Hare 1996

The modern law of confiscation in England and Wales began with the Drug Trafficking Offences Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1988.

The case of HM Customs & Excise v Hare and Others [1996] EWCA Civ 1351 was concerned with a restraint order made under Criminal Justice Act 1988 powers against a number of individual defendants and certain companies under their control.

The basis of the application to the judge and the restraint order which he made was that the individual defendants, through the companies and otherwise, had carried out excise duty fraud in relation to alcoholic liquor in a sum then estimated as being in excess of £100m.  No charges had been brought against the companies themselves however.

It appears not to have been disputed that some of the companies’ trading had been legitimate although perhaps only a small part.  The accounting records of the companies were wholly inadequate.

The Court of Appeal held that the evidence provided a prima facie case that the defendants had control of the companies; that the companies had been used for fraud, in particular the evasion of excise duty on a large scale; that the defendants regarded the companies as carrying on a family business, and that company cash had benefitted the defendants in substantial amounts.

The Court of Appeal considered that Customs and Excise ought not to be criticised for not charging the companies.  The more complex commercial activities become, the more vital it is for prosecuting authorities to be selective in whom and what they charge, so that issues can be presented in as clear and short a form as possible.

It seemed to the Court of Appeal that no useful purpose would have been served by introducing into criminal proceedings the additional complexities as to the corporate mind and will, which charging the companies would have involved.  Conversely, there could have been justified criticism had the companies been charged merely as a device for obtaining orders under the Act in relation to their assets.

In all the circumstances, it was appropriate to lift the corporate veil in this case and to treat the stock in the companies’ warehouses and the motor vehicles as property held by the individual defendants.

 

R v Dimsey and Allen 1999

The case of R v Dimsey and Allen [1999] EWCA Crim 2261 was concerned with a confiscation order made under Criminal Justice Act 1988 powers against Mr Allen.

A large part of Mr Allen’s benefit for confiscation purposes was said to consist of the corporation tax liabilities of certain offshore companies, which had been evaded.  Mr Allen contended on appeal that these were not liabilities of his (they were liabilities of the companies concerned) and hence not benefit of his.

It was the prosecution case that his income and assets were held by offshore companies.  The properties in which he and his family lived were bought and sold in the name of offshore companies.  Offshore companies were used to pay for personal expenditure, including holidays, school fees and ordinary household expenses.  It was the prosecution case that Mr Allen himself managed and controlled the companies in the United Kingdom.  That aspect of the prosecution case was not challenged for the purposes of his appeal.

The Court of Appeal gave short shrift to the argument that the relevant benefit was not Mr Allen’s, holding that “it is plain from authorities cited by the Crown that the corporate veil may fall to be lifted where companies are used as a vehicle for fraud.  Here the companies in question were the appellant’s alter ego.  On this part of the case it seems to us that the Crown’s position is simply incontestable.  In those circumstances the appeal against the making of the confiscation order will be dismissed”.

 

CPS v Jennings 2008

On 14 May 2008 the House of Lords handed down important judgments in three confiscation cases, R v May [2008] UKHL 28, CPS v Jennings [2008] UKHL 29 and R v Green [2008] UKHL 30.

On the face of it Mr Jennings’ appeal concerned a restraint order made under Criminal Justice Act 1988 powers in relation to his assets, pending his trial on a charge of conspiracy to defraud.  But the issues raised in the appeal also concerned the amount of the benefit “obtained” by Mr Jennings from his offence.

The conspiracy was described by the prosecution as ‘an advance fee fraud’.  It was carried on through a company, UK Finance (Europe) Ltd, which had originally been in legitimate business selling second hand cars and arranging finance for the purchasers.  The company advertised itself as a lender, targeting people with poor credit ratings.  Applications for loans were made over the telephone.  An administration fee of £70 was required in return for arranging a loan.  But in fact the company had no money to lend, and no arrangements with any other source of finance to make loans, and no loans were ever made.

Mr Jennings was an employee of company.  He was neither a director nor a shareholder.

The prosecution alleged that each of the conspirators had benefited to the tune of the total amount of monies obtained from the fraud, calculated by the financial analyst employed by the police at £584,637.  This sum was made up of £460,809, which had gone through the company’s books, and £123,828, which was the value of postal orders cashed at a local post office.  Mr Jennings’ argument was that, over the period of the conspiracy, he and his wife could not have received more than, say, £50,000, made up of salary, a payment from the company’s loan account, and the postal orders which he had cashed “on several occasions” when the sole director, Mr Phillips, was away.

In relation to the amount of benefit Mr Jennings had “obtained” the judgment reached no conclusion, leaving that to be determined on the making of any confiscation order against him.  The court noted however that “obtained” must mean “obtained by him”.

In its judgment in the case of May the House of Lords said:-

“D ordinarily obtains property if in law he owns it, whether alone or jointly, which will ordinarily connote a power of disposition or control, as where a person directs a payment or conveyance of property to someone else. He ordinarily obtains a pecuniary advantage if (among other things) he evades a liability to which he is personally subject”.

Matters relating to Mr Jennings had moved on since the restraint order had been made in that, by the time of the House of Lords’ judgment, both Mr Phillips and Mr Jennings had been found guilty of the fraud.

In relation to piercing the corporate veil the House of Lords said, “In the ordinary way acts done in the name of and on behalf of a limited company are treated in law as the acts of the company, not of the individuals who do them.  That is the veil which incorporation confers.  But here the acts done by Mr Jennings and his associate Mr Phillips in the name of the company have led to the conviction of one and a plea of guilty by the other.  Thus the veil of incorporation has been not so much pierced as rudely torn away”.

That judgment might be regarded as the high water mark in piercing the corporate veil in confiscation proceedings.

 

R v Seager and Blatch 2009

The significance of the Court of Appeal decision in R v Seager and Blatch [2009] EWCA Crim 1303 is not the actual outcome for Mr Seager and Mr Blatch.  Each of them had been convicted of acting as a company director whilst disqualified from doing so.  The court held in each case that the corporate veil should not be pierced as the relevant company in each case was operating a legitimate business (albeit that the defendants should not have been acting as directors of those companies).

The significance of the judgment is in the summary of the law on the subject of piercing the corporate veil which is included in the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which held:-

“There was no major disagreement between counsel on the legal principles by reference to which a court is entitled to ‘pierce’ or ‘rend’ or ‘remove’ the ‘corporate veil’.  It is ‘hornbook’ law that a duly formed and registered company is a separate legal entity from those who are its shareholders and it has rights and liabilities that are separate from its shareholders.

A court can ‘pierce’ the carapace of the corporate entity and look at what lies behind it only in certain circumstances.  It cannot do so simply because it considers it might be just to do so.  Each of these circumstances involves impropriety and dishonesty.  The court will then be entitled to look for the legal substance, not the just the form.

In the context of criminal cases the courts have identified at least three situations when the corporate veil can be pierced.

  • First if an offender attempts to shelter behind a corporate façade, or veil to hide his crime and his benefits from it.
  • Secondly, where an offender does acts in the name of a company which (with the necessary mens rea) constitute a criminal offence which leads to the offender’s conviction.
  • Thirdly, where the transaction or business structures constitute a ‘device’, ‘cloak’ or ‘sham’, i.e. an attempt to disguise the true nature of the transaction or structure so as to deceive third parties or the courts.”

 

Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd 2013

The judgment of the UK Supreme Court in the case of Prest v Petrodel Resources Ltd and Others [2013] UKSC 34 is undoubtedly significant in relation to the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil.  In view of all that had gone before it may also be regarded as surprising.

The case arose from the divorce of Michael and Yasmin Prest.  In essence Yasmin Prest made a claim, following her divorce from Michael Prest, on seven properties the legal ownership of which was held in the names of various companies.

One of the issues which arose, or appeared to arise, was whether the court was entitled to pierce the corporate veil to enable the court to ensure the satisfaction of a financial order made in the matrimonial court in favour of Yasmin Prest.

Ultimately the Supreme Court held that it was unnecessary to pierce the corporate veil as in reality the seven properties, though legally held in the names of the companies, were beneficially owned by Michael Prest.

However the Supreme Court considered in depth the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil and found little to commend the concept.  Lord Sumption said:-

“In my view, the principle that the court may be justified in piercing the corporate veil if a company’s separate legal personality is being abused for the purpose of some relevant wrongdoing is well established in the authorities.

It is true that most of the statements of principle in the authorities are obiter, because the corporate veil was not pierced.  It is also true that most cases in which the corporate veil was pierced could have been decided on other grounds.  But the consensus that there are circumstances in which the court may pierce the corporate veil is impressive.

I would not for my part be willing to explain that consensus out of existence.  This is because I think that the recognition of a limited power to pierce the corporate veil in carefully defined circumstances is necessary if the law is not to be disarmed in the face of abuse.

I also think that provided the limits are recognised and respected, it is consistent with the general approach of English law to the problems raised by the use of legal concepts to defeat mandatory rules of law.

The difficulty is to identify what is a relevant wrongdoing.  References to a ‘facade’ or ‘sham’ beg too many questions to provide a satisfactory answer.

It seems to me that two distinct principles lie behind these protean terms, and that much confusion has been caused by failing to distinguish between them.  They can conveniently be called the concealment principle and the evasion principle.

The concealment principle is legally banal and does not involve piercing the corporate veil at all.  It is that the interposition of a company or perhaps several companies so as to conceal the identity of the real actors will not deter the courts from identifying them, assuming that their identity is legally relevant.  In these cases the court is not disregarding the ‘facade’, but only looking behind it to discover the facts which the corporate structure is concealing.

The evasion principle is different.  It is that the court may disregard the corporate veil if there is a legal right against the person in control of it which exists independently of the company’s involvement, and a company is interposed so that the separate legal personality of the company will defeat the right or frustrate its enforcement”.

He went on:-
“I conclude that there is a limited principle of English law which applies when a person is under an existing legal obligation or liability or subject to an existing legal restriction which he deliberately evades or whose enforcement he deliberately frustrates by interposing a company under his control.

The court may then pierce the corporate veil for the purpose, and only for the purpose, of depriving the company or its controller of the advantage that they would otherwise have obtained by the company’s separate legal personality.  The principle is properly described as a limited one, because in almost every case where the test is satisfied, the facts will in practice disclose a legal relationship between the company and its controller which will make it unnecessary to pierce the corporate veil.

I consider that if it is not necessary to pierce the corporate veil, it is not appropriate to do so, because on that footing there is no public policy imperative which justifies that course.

For all of these reasons, the principle has been recognised far more often than it has been applied.  But the recognition of a small residual category of cases where the abuse of the corporate veil to evade or frustrate the law can be addressed only by disregarding the legal personality of the company is, I believe, consistent with authority and with long-standing principles of legal policy”.

Lady Hale in a brief supporting judgment referred to “examples of the principle that the individuals who operate limited companies should not be allowed to take unconscionable advantage of the people with whom they do business”.

Lord Mance added:-
“It is however often dangerous to seek to foreclose all possible future situations which may arise and I would not wish to do so.  What can be said with confidence is that the strength of the principle in Salomon’s case and the number of other tools which the law has available mean that, if there are other situations in which piercing the veil may be relevant as a final fall-back, they are likely to be novel and very rare”.

In short the Supreme Court held that, in part because of other remedies available (which should then be used in preference), it will almost never be necessary to rely on the doctrine of piercing the corporate veil.

However it has to be said that the Supreme Court was not considering criminal misconduct and was not referred to cases such as Hare and Jennings.

It also should be remembered that the Supreme Court appears to have endorsed the dictum of Lord Denning in Lazarus Estates Ltd that “fraud unravels everything” (which applies not only to situations involving limited companies).

 

R v Sale 2013

The Court of Appeal decision in R v Sale [2013] EWCA Crim 1306 appears to be the first confiscation appeal after the Supreme Court decision in Prest in which issues of piercing the corporate veil were considered.

Mr Sale had been convicted of corruption and fraud by false representation in connection with gifts given to an employee of Network Rail.  Mr Sale was managing director of Sale Service and Maintenance Ltd which became a supplier to Network Rail.  The company obtained contracts for approximately £2m worth of work in consequence of the corruption.

In relation to the confiscation order Mr Sale argued that his benefit should be limited to the financial advantages he had himself received, rather than the sums received by the company under the contracts.

The Court of Appeal held that, following the Supreme Court decision in Prest, the earlier Court of Appeal decision in Seager and Blatch was still good law but was to be understood in the light of Prest.

In particular in relation to the three circumstances in which it had previously been said that “the corporate veil can be pierced” Seager and Blatch should now to be understood to mean instead that “a benefit obtained by a company is also treated in law by PoCA as a benefit obtained by the individual criminal”.

Mr Sale was the sole controller of the company and there was a very close inter-relationship between the corrupt actions of Mr Sale and steps taken by the company in advancing those corrupt acts and intentions, the reality was that the activities of both Mr Sale and the company were so interlinked as to be indivisible.  Insofar as the company was involved, what it did served to hide what Mr Sale was doing.

Accordingly in Mr Sale’s confiscation proceedings it was appropriate for the court to have regard to the transactions between Network Rail and the limited company and not to confine itself to the amounts which Mr Sale had personally received.

It may be noted that in Sale Mr Sale’s available amount was in excess of his benefit in any event and so was not a matter for consideration by the court.

 

McDowell and Singh v R 2015

In McDowell and Singh v R [2015] EWCA Crim 173 the Court of Appeal adopted the approach employed in Sale.

In particular it found that the defendant was the sole controller and beneficial owner of the company, which was his alter ego.  Accordingly the Crown Court was entitled to examine the receipts and profits of the company for the purpose of ascertaining the benefit obtained from the criminal conduct of the defendant personally.

 

Boyle Transport (NI) Ltd v R 2016

The case of Boyle Transport (Northern Ireland) Ltd v R [2016] EWCA Crim 19 was more factually complex.

Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle had been at the relevant time the only directors of a haulage company, Boyle Transport Ltd, and had between them owned just over 50% of the shares in the company.  The remaining shares were held by other members of the Boyle family.

Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle and a number of drivers employed by the company were convicted of conspiring to make false instruments in relation to tachograph records relating to the use of the company’s haulage vehicles.

Confiscation proceedings against Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle followed.  In those confiscation proceedings the court held that each of the defendants had a criminal lifestyle and that in excess of 50% of the turnover of the company over a period of six years was to be regarded as benefit jointly obtained by them.  That resulted in a finding that each of Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle had obtained a benefit of just over £10m.

The available amount of each defendant was significantly less than the benefit.  The court found the available amount of Patrick Boyle to be £1,097,622 and that of Mark Boyle to be £738,171.  In each case the available amount of the defendant included assets held by the company.

An added complication was that a new company, Boyle Transport (Northern Ireland) Ltd, had been incorporated and the entire fleet of vehicles and trailers of the old company and other assets were transferred to the new company of which Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle were not directors.

The Crown Court found that the transfer of assets to the new company was not genuine but a mere device and made an order for the appointment of an enforcement receiver.  The new company appealed against that order.  At the same time Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle appealed against the original confiscation orders.

On behalf of the new company it was contended that the old company was established as a legitimate company, carrying on a legitimate business: road haulage.  It had substantial assets and many employees, all deployed for that legitimate purpose.  True it was that business had been carried on, in a very significant way, in breach of the relevant regulations.  But that did not justify disregarding or piercing the corporate veil.  The old company was not an alter ego company on any view: it was not within the concealment principle.  Nor had the old company been established or operated in a way coming within the evasion principle.  In the circumstances of this case it was a negation of well settled company law principles, as confirmed in Prest, and indeed a negation of realities to equate the turnover obtained by the old company with benefit obtained by Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle and to designate assets held by the old company as assets held by them.  That they were the ‘operating minds’ did not mean that they were the owners.  The judge had placed too much emphasis on the wrongdoing and not enough emphasis on the actual benefit they as individuals had obtained.

In essence the Court of Appeal agreed with these contentions and held that it would not be justified to treat the turnover of the old company, or the major part of it, as benefit obtained by Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle individually; nor would it be justified to treat the assets of the old company (and hence of the new company) as realisable property of Patrick Boyle and Mark Boyle individually.

The Court of Appeal in its judgment in Boyle went on to comment upon earlier decisions in Hare, Prest, Sale and McDowell.  It considered that Sale and McDowell were decisions on their particular facts and implied that the caution expressed in the decision in Hare, many years ago, concerning the undesirability of charging the company itself with a criminal offence, may now be misplaced following the decision of the Supreme Court in Prest.

With regard to the decision in Jennings, the Court of Appeal noted that in that case the activities of the company were wholly fraudulent and it regarded Jennings as an example of the concealment principle identified in Prest.

The Court added:-

“The reality is that in the Crown Courts – as in many other courts – the phrase ‘piercing’ the corporate veil had been used broadly without focusing precisely on the two concepts of concealment and evasion as have now been identified by Lord Sumption in Prest.  One must not forget the obvious point that the context of confiscation proceedings under the 2002 Act is always criminal.  That, in factual terms, is a context very different from Salomon and is very different also from many of the reported decisions on lifting or piercing the corporate veil.

It is that criminal context which is capable of explaining why, in an appropriate case in confiscation proceedings, the involvement of a limited company quite frequently can, on the facts, be described as a mere facade or sham.   The companies in such cases are properly treated as alter egos, or agents, of their criminal controllers.

Many of the cases of this kind thus are clear examples of Lord Sumption’s concealment principle and do not involve, in the sense explained by Lord Sumption, ‘piercing’ the corporate veil at all: and it is that latter doctrine which is the one of “limited” and “rare” application”.

The Court however also cautioned against too great a readiness to reach a finding of alter ego in relation to any company, noting that “the fact that the incorporator is sole shareholder and director of a company does not mean that the company is thereby and for that reason alone to be treated as his alter ego”.

In relation to the much quoted passage from Seager and Blatch the Court suggested that the opening sentence be further modified to read, “In the context of criminal cases the courts have identified at least three situations when a benefit obtained by a company may, depending on the facts, also be treated in law by POCA as a benefit obtained by the individual criminal….”.

The Court of Appeal referred to six overlapping general propositions which Crown Courts may wish to take into account when considering piercing the corporate veil in confiscation proceedings:-

  1. The test is not simply a test of “justice”, which would be too vague and unprincipled.
  2. The Crown Court needs to assess the reality of the matter, but without departing from established principles relating to the separate legal status of a limited company.
  3. Confiscation is not aimed at punishment.
  4. The principles pertaining to piercing the corporate veil in confiscation are the same as those which apply in the civil courts.
  5. Regard should be had to the nature and extent of the criminality involved.
  6. Where a company is solely owned and controlled by a convicted defendant it will not necessarily follow that the company is his alter ego.

 

A clear and coherent picture?

So do we, as a result of all this caselaw, have a clear and coherent picture of when in confiscation proceedings it will be justified to treat the turnover of a limited company as benefit obtained by a defendant personally and when it will be justified to treat the assets of the company as realisable property of a defendant individually?

I suggest that we do not.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court in Prest the Court of Appeal could have abandoned the obiter dicta in Seager and Blatch and proposed an entirely new formulation in relation to piercing the veil of incorporation in confiscation proceedings.  It did not.

Or the Court of Appeal could have concluded that the dictum of Lord Denning that “fraud unravels everything” applies in confiscation proceedings and that the Supreme Court in Prest was not addressing such proceedings, which arise in a criminal context – reaffirming Seager and Blatch.  It did not.

Instead since Prest the Court of Appeal has progressively watered down Seager and Blatch and found itself facing different ways in Sale, McDowell and Boyle, whilst controverting Hare for good measure.

Prosecutors, lawyers and courts may well find themselves in many cases unclear as to the principles to be followed in quantifying a convicted defendant’s benefit and available amount for confiscation purposes where a limited company is involved.

 

Practical implications

In Boyle the Court of Appeal found that the convicted defendants were the only two directors of the company, that they between them owned more that 50% of the shares in the company and that more than 50% of the turnover of the company was derived from criminal conduct.  Yet they held that it would not be appropriate to ascribe to the convicted defendants for confiscation purposes any part of the turnover or assets of the company.

Defendants and their legal advisers will thereby be encouraged to contest in confiscation proceedings the piercing of the corporate veil in every case in which there is a sliver of legitimate trading in the operations of a company – and perhaps even in cases where there is not.

Prosecutors will be encouraged to charge not only company directors but also the companies themselves with criminal offences, with a view to avoiding in confiscation proceedings the difficulties which the Crown have encountered in Boyle.

As the outcome in Boyle demonstrates, individuals whose criminal conduct is undertaken through a limited company may fare very much better in confiscation than those whose criminality is undertaken individually or in an unincorporated partnership, unless the company itself is also charged, convicted and made subject to confiscation.  That may be particularly relevant in cases of money laundering, people or arms trafficking, bribery, intellectual property or modern slavery offences, and in relation to regulatory offences.

Even where an individual and a company are both subject to confiscation it is easy to imagine circumstances in which the bulk of the benefit would be regarded as obtained by the company (rather than the individual) with the result that the individual defendant would be less likely to be obliged to realise his legitimately acquired assets to satisfy a confiscation order.

I would suggest that in preparation for a confiscation hearing both prosecution and defence will now in many cases wish to prepare two computations of benefit and available amount based on the alternative outcomes that the court does, or does not, pierce the corporate veil.

Financial investigators preparing s16 statements for the prosecution will need to be alive to the possibility that assets apparently held by a company may be beneficially owned by an individual or vice versa, as will the lawyers and forensic accountants instructed by the defendants.

Where both the company and its directors are convicted of an offence and are subject to confiscation proceedings there will be an additional difficulty in valuing the director’s shares in the company for the purpose of determining his available amount, because the value of his shares may depend upon the outcome of the confiscation proceedings against the company.

All of these factors are likely to create extra work for prosecutors, lawyers, forensic accountants and the courts in years to come.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to confiscation proceedings under the provisions of Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

Post Office ‘Horizon’ issue in the news again

Post OfficeThe Post Office has again been mired in controversy over the alleged failings in its ‘Horizon’ software system used in thousands of sub-postoffices around the country.

It is clear that there has been a breakdown of trust between the national Post Office organisation and Second Sight, the independent forensic accountants appointed by the Post Office to investigate the allegations.

 

This has resulted in the Post Office terminating their contract with Second Sight and closing a Working Group which had been set up to examine outstanding disputes between the Post Office & sub-postmasters.

Following an investigation by the parliamentary Business, Innovations & Skills select committee the chairman wrote to the Secretary of State on 17 March 2015 commenting on the “lamentable lack of information” provided to Second Sight by the Post Office.

It is understood that Second Sight completed a report recently but this report remains confidential to the parties involved in the dispute.  Nevertheless media reports have surfaced indicating serious disagreements between the Post Office and the forensic accountants with the forensic accountants claiming that the Post Office have failed to disclose relevant documents to the investigating accountants & the Post Office disputing the accountants’ assertions.

 

Prosecutions

The heart of the dispute has been a number of prosecutions of sub-postmasters following investigations into their figures.  Many of those prosecutions have resulted in conviction of the sub-postmaster for dishonesty.  But matters may not be as straightforward as they appear.

The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance (JFSA) believes that in many cases the root cause of the problems have been failures in the Post Office ‘Horizon’ software – which have created unexplained apparent shortfalls in cash in local post offices.  Since sub-postmasters are contractually obliged to make good such shortfalls out of their own pockets they have in some cases ‘cooked the books’ in an attempt to hide these apparent shortfalls from the Post Office organisation.

It is these false entries which have been identified by Post Office internal auditors & which have led to the successful prosecutions.

But JFSA says that this is an injustice where the original computer failings have remained uninvestigated.

The Post Office say that there “has been an exhaustive and informative process which has confirmed that there are no system-wide problems with our computer system and associated processes” and that they “will now look to resolve the final outstanding cases as quickly as possible”.

But we may not have heard the last of this controversy.

David

Getting technical help on proceeds of crime issues

 

My name is David Winch, Director of Accounting Evidence Ltd.

We are forensic accountants specialising in crime and proceeds of crime proceedings in Crown Court cases in England and Wales.

Most of the work we do is financed by legal aid under ‘prior authority’ arrangements.

Personally, I have been qualified as a Chartered Accountant for 35 years and have a lot of experience in the Crown Court as an expert witness.

If you visit our website you will find over 70 detailed technical articles which will help you.

If you can’t find what you want, try the Quick Query button on our website homepage.

That emails me and I will personally reply – free of charge.

If you need expert advice, get in touch.

Accounting Evidence.

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Contacting us

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David

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Confiscation – a huge figure of benefit

 

My name is David Winch, Director of Accounting Evidence Ltd.

We are forensic accountants specialising in crime and proceeds of crime, typically under legal aid

funding arrangements, in Crown Court cases in England and Wales.

You are a solicitor with a section 16 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 statement landed on your desk.

There’s a huge figure of benefit for your client, an available amount that doesn’t make any sense

and hundreds of pages of appendices.

What do you do?

Well, give us a call on 01229  716651 and speak to me

or email me via the Quick Query button at the foot of the homepage.

Accounting Evidence.

It’s what we do.

 

Contacting us

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David

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Confiscation & legitimate businesses

Business officeDo recent English Court of Appeal decisions map out a new approach to confiscation when applied to legitimate businesses which have become tainted with criminality?

Has there been an evolution in the assessment of ‘benefit’ following the Supreme Court judgment in Waya?

Are the courts in certain circumstances now looking to confiscate only the profit from trading?

 

Payments received

Whilst one could describe drug trafficking as a ‘business’ as it involves trading in goods, it has long been the case – since the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 in fact – that the gross receipts of such a ‘business’ are treated as ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

Drug trafficking is of course a wholly criminal enterprise.  Prior to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 confiscation in respect of drug trafficking was dealt with under a separate legislative regime which specified that the offender’s benefit was “any payments or other rewards received”.  That can only mean the gross receipts.

 

Property obtained

But the wording of the confiscation provisions in s71 Criminal Justice Act 1988, relating to non-drug crime, referred to property “obtained” as a result of or in connection with the offence.  Similar wording was adopted when the two different legislative regimes for confiscation were merged in PoCA 2002.  Is the notion of what an offender has “obtained” a more flexible one than what he has “received”?

Initially the PoCA 2002 formulation was considered, identically to the old drug crime wording, to refer to gross receipts.  For example the Court of Appeal in CPS Nottinghamshire v Rose [2008] EWCA Crim 239 at paragraph [67] said “it can safely be assumed that Parliament, in enacting the legislation, did not intend to weaken the application of the existing confiscation regime”.

The House of Lords in the case of CPS v Jennings [2008] UKHL 29 confirmed that “obtained” meant obtained, solely or jointly, by the offender himself & that a person may “obtain” property without it actually passing through his hands.  In R v May [2008] UKHL 28 it was said that a defendant “ordinarily obtains property if in law he owns it”.  In that sense the notion of what has been “obtained” may be wider than that which has been “received”.

But the House of Lords also recognised that a person may “receive” property without “obtaining” it – as in the case of a courier.

 

High water mark

Perhaps the case of Del Basso & Goodwin v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1119 might be regarded as a high water mark in the application of confiscation to legitimate business.  In that case the offenders operated a ‘park & ride’ business in contravention of an enforcement order.  There was no local authority planning permission allowing the use of the land in question for that purpose.  A confiscation order based on the gross receipts of the business was upheld by the Court of Appeal notwithstanding the acknowledged fact that in other respects the business was operated in a proper & lawful manner.

 

Scottish High Court case

But in a case involving the Weir Group PLC, a quoted company, the Scottish High Court took a very different line.  The Weir Group PLC paid an agreed figure of £13,945,962 in confiscation and a fine of £3m after pleading guilty to two charges of breaching UN sanctions in connection with a number of ‘Oil for Food’ programme contracts awarded between 2000 and 2002.  The company admitted breaching UN sanctions applicable at the time on doing business with Iraq which was then ruled by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Under the relevant statute, s1(1) Proceeds of Crime Scotland Act 1995, the Scottish Court had discretion to make a confiscation order in “such sum as the court thinks fit”.  The Weir Group companies had secured 16 contracts, for which they were paid £34,340,204, by paying ‘kickbacks’ of £3,104,527. The confiscation order was for only £13,945,962. This included Weir’s gross profit of £9,414,283 from the contracts – plus the kickbacks of £3,104,527 and the fee of £1,427,152 paid to Weir’s agent in Iraq.

The confiscation order could have been for £20m more had the Scottish Court settled on the gross receipts as the appropriate figure for confiscation.

 

Three contrasting situations

Recent Court of Appeal decisions in England & Wales appear to differentiate between three contrasting situations.

The first is where a licence or other form of authorisation is mandatory when carrying on a particular trade or business activity but the absence of that licence does not render the trading itself illegal.  So, for example, in Sumal & Sons (Properties) Ltd v London Borough of Newham [2012] EWCA Crim 1840 the company was convicted of being the owner of a rented property without a licence contrary to s95(1) Housing Act 2004.

However the Court of Appeal found that the Housing Act did not prohibit the renting out of an unlicensed property & that the rent was legally recoverable from tenants even where the required licence had not been obtained.

That being the case, the rent was not received or obtained as a result of or in connection with the offence & so was not ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

A similar result occurred in the case of Mr Singh who failed to obtain a licence under s1(1) Scrap Metal Dealer’s Act 1964, before he carried on business as a scrap metal dealer – see McDowell & Singh v The Queen [2015] EWCA Crim 173.  Again his trading activity was not itself prohibited due to the absence of a licence & therefore no ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes arose from it.

The underlying trading was not itself an illegal activity, nor could it be said to have resulted from the criminal conduct.

Confiscation orders which had been made in these cases were quashed on appeal.

 

Illegitimate trading

At the other end of the scale we have trading activity which is itself illegal, being prohibited by law.  Obviously drug trafficking falls into this category but so too was the trading of a company controlled by Mr McDowell who was convicted of being knowingly concerned in the supply, delivery, transfer, acquisition or disposal of controlled goods with intent to evade the prohibition thereon, contrary to Article 9(2) Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003.

The trading in question involved the delivery of aircraft and other military equipment from China to Ghana.  The Court of Appeal found the underlying transactions to be prohibited and unlawful.  Mr McDowell’s criminal offence was being concerned in the trading activity.  His ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes was the gross amount received from that trading.

Intriguingly however the Court of Appeal added, “We were informed only that the company’s accounts revealed the gross profit made by the company in consequence of all its trading. In these circumstances, even if, in principle, the court had been prepared to entertain a submission that the appellant’s benefit was for a lesser sum than his receipts, he had manifestly failed to discharge the burden of proof.”

 

Legitimate trading resulting from criminality

But the Court of Appeal in McDowell suggests at paragraph [51] there is a middle ground – “In a case in which the underlying transactions producing the appellant’s receipts are lawful and not criminal, the cost of those transactions to the defendant may, on the grounds of proportionality, properly be treated as consideration given by the appellant for the benefit ‘obtained’. There may be no “loser” as contemplated by the Supreme Court in Waya and by the Vice President in Jawad, but the underlying principle is the same – the defendant has not gained by his conduct to the extent that he has given value for his receipts. Each case must be decided according to its particular facts.”

We are dealing here with the situation in which the defendant has committed an offence and that offence has resulted in trading activity which would not otherwise have occurred – but the underlying trading activity is not itself criminal conduct.

An earlier decision of the Court of Appeal had concerned a Mr Sale who had obtained contracts for his engineering company from Network Rail by bribing one of their employees, R v Sale [2013] EWCA Crim 1306.  The engineering work was properly performed and was, of itself, an entirely legal trading activity.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the amount to be confiscated was not the gross receipts of the company under the contracts but was the company profit plus the the pecuniary advantage gained by obtaining market share, excluding competitors, and saving on the costs of preparing proper tenders for the work.  The Court of Appeal held that, on grounds of proportionality & in the light of the Supreme Court decision in Waya, the amount ordered to be paid under the confiscation order ought to have been calculated on that basis.

In another case, R v Boughton Fox [2014] EWCA Crim 2940, the court had found that customers had been induced by dishonest misrepresentations to enter into legitimate leasing agreements upon terms which were, in the event, more onerous than had been represented to them.  The defendant’s company had received commission from the lessors on the signing of the lease agreements.  The defendant was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and was subject to a confiscation order.

The Court of Appeal, following Sale, concluded “that the benefit to the appellant might arguably be reflected as (1) the gross profit from the dishonest trading activity, (2) the increase in market value of the company, if any, represented by the dishonest trading activity with (3) an adjustment to represent the appellant’s 50% interest in the company”.

In the event however there was no information before the Court enabling it to assess the benefit in that way & it instead took Mr Boughton Fox’s benefit to be a proportion of the salary & dividends received by him over the period of the offending.

 

Conclusion

It appears that in the three contrasting situations the amount to be paid under a confiscation order may be based on (a) no benefit, (b) benefit equal to gross receipts, or (c) a figure based, on grounds of proportionality, on the gross profit from the resulting trading plus the value of any other advantages obtained (such as benefit from increased market share and cost savings).

An accountant might consider that the appropriate figure, instead of gross profit plus cost savings, should be the contribution which the trading in question makes to net profit, that is to say the relevant turnover net of associated variable costs.  That would be a better measure of what the business has gained by the additional sales.

Certainly in such cases a forensic accountant, such as myself, should be instructed to assist in quantifying the appropriate figure.

The key to differentiating the three situations is a careful analysis of the nature of the offence and the extent, if at all, to which it involves trading, or results in underlying trading, which is itself illegal.  Where the offence involves illegal trading, or results in trading which is itself illegal, then the benefit will be the gross amount received from that trading.

Where the offence does not involve trading but results in trading which itself is not illegal, then the expenses incurred in that trading are not expenses of the crime and may be treated, on grounds of proportionality, as consideration which may reduce the amount to be paid under the confiscation order.

Where the offence does not itself involve trading and the trading does not result from the offence, then that trading does not give rise to any benefit for confiscation purposes.

However there are undoubtedly some legal complexities inherent in this new approach particularly with regard to distinguishing, on the one hand, trading receipts from criminal activity and, on the other, trading receipts from legitimate activity resulting from criminal conduct.

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will endorse this new approach when an appropriate case comes before it.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(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.)

7 key differences between trial & confiscation

Legal booksIn many respects confiscation proceedings exist in a different world from criminal trials.  It is almost as if, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, we have stepped through a looking glass into a parallel universe.

It is important that lawyers recognise this and adjust their approach to the work accordingly.  This article points up, briefly and in the most general terms, seven key differences between Crown Court trials and confiscation proceedings.

 

1 The question

In a Crown Court trial the key issue is whether the defendant is ‘Guilty‘ or ‘Not Guilty‘ of the offence or offences of which he is charged.

In confiscation proceedings the question is ‘How much?.  The proceedings are concerned primarily with the quantification, in money terms, of the convicted defendant’s ‘benefit‘ and ‘available amount‘ (as defined in Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002).

 

2 The standard & burden of proof

In the trial the burden of proof rests upon the prosecution to the ‘criminal standard’.  They have to make the jury ‘sure’ of the guilt of the defendant.

In confiscation proceedings the standard of proof is the ‘civil standard’ – the balance of probabilities – and, in many respects, the burden of proof is on the convicted defendant; particularly in rebutting the statutory s10 assumptions in a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ case and in satisfying the court that the convicted defendant’s ‘available amount‘ is less than his ‘benefit‘.

 

3 The focus & scope of the proceedings

In the trial the focus is on the offence or offences of which the defendant is charged.  In confiscation proceedings the focus is on the convicted defendant under consideration.

Where, as is often the case, in confiscation proceedings the convicted defendant is alleged to have a ‘criminal lifestylethe scope of the proceedings can range far beyond matters relevant to the offence or offences of which he has been convicted.  The entire financial affairs of the convicted defendant over a period of many years may be subject to scrutiny.

Consideration of the convicted defendant’s ‘available amount‘ involves matters unconnected with any offence.

The indictment in a criminal trial may cover a number of co-defendants, but the s16 statement in confiscation proceedings deals only with a single convicted defendant.  A confiscation order reflects the ‘benefit‘ obtained, solely or jointly, and the ‘available amount‘ of only that particular convicted defendant.

 

4 The evidence

In a criminal trial the prosecution may call a number of witnesses who may have, quite literally, witnessed the alleged crime being committed.  The defence may call evidence from the defendant himself.

In confiscation proceedings the prosecution are unlikely to call evidence from anyone other than the financial investigator who is the author of the s16 statement (which sets out the prosecution assertions regarding the convicted defendant’s ‘benefit‘ and ‘available amount‘).  The likelihood is that little or no weight will be given by the court to unsupported oral evidence from the convicted defendant since, by that stage, he has been found guilty and his credibility thereby undermined.

The defence will therefore seek to present other witnesses, perhaps including a forensic accountant expert witness, and documentary evidence in support of the defence assertions.

Evidence which would be inadmissible in the criminal trial may be admissible in confiscation proceedings.

 

5 The decision makers

In a Crown Court trial the key decision of ‘Guilty’ or ‘Not Guilty’ is made by the jury, then in the case of a ‘Guilty’ verdict the sentencing is carried out by the judge.

But in confiscation proceedings there is no jury.  All the decisions are made by the Crown Court judge.  Having said that, in many cases the figures of ‘benefit‘ and ‘available amount‘ are in practice settled by negotiation resulting in an agreement between counsel for prosecution and defence which has been reached outside the courtroom.  The judge will then be invited to make an order in the agreed figures and fix a default sentence.

 

6 The factors in sentencing

In relation to sentencing following trial key factors will often include the nature and gravity of the conduct of the defendant in committing the offence, whether he pleaded guilty, his previous convictions, and his conduct since the offence in terms of showing remorse or making reparation.

In contrast a confiscation order is not strictly speaking regarded as punishment for the offence at all.  So those factors (other than reparation) will have no impact on the confiscation.  A relatively minor offence (in terms of sentencing) might be followed by a very substantial confiscation order, whilst conviction for a relatively serious offence might be followed by a minimal confiscation order.

By way of example, in the case of Waya [2012] UKSC 51 the mortgage fraud offence attracted 80 hours community punishment but the eventual confiscation order was in the very substantial sum of £392,400.

It has been said that confiscation is intended, not to punish the convicted defendant for the crime, but to deprive him of the benefit he has obtained from relevant criminal conduct, up to the limit of his available means.

 

7 Appeals

The prosecution have, with very limited exceptions, no opportunity to appeal the verdict or sentence in a criminal trial.

However prosecution and defence are each permitted to appeal a confiscation order (or a decision to make no confiscation order).

 

Conclusions

Confiscation proceedings are very different from the criminal trial which precedes them. They demand a different approach from instructed lawyers and an extensive examination of financial evidence.  That examination may be assisted by the work of a forensic accountant, particularly where it is alleged that the convicted defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘.

David

(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.)

Confiscation – the basics

photo 123 - copyright David Winch 2014This post aims to be an introduction to the basics of confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England & Wales.  It includes links to more detailed articles dealing with particular elements of confiscation law (shown like this).

A word of warning.  An introduction like this can be broadly correct but cannot cover the full detail of the legislation nor can it cover those unusual circumstances which may be exceptions to the general guidance contained here.

Be warned too that words and phrases used in confiscation often have a specific technical meaning which is not the same as their meaning in everyday English conversation.  That applies particularly to terms such as ‘benefit’, ‘criminal lifestyle’ and ‘available amount’.

 

When does confiscation apply?

Confiscation proceedings can only be commenced when a defendant has been convicted (either in the Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court) of one or more offences from which he has obtained a benefit.  All confiscation proceedings in England & Wales are conducted in the Crown Court in front of a judge but without a jury.

A wide range of offences can form the basis for confiscation proceedings, including offences such as theft, fraud, drugs offences, money laundering and tax evasion. However confiscation orders are not imposed in every case in which a defendant obtains a benefit. In the year to 31 March 2013 approximately 673,000 persons were convicted of an offence (not all of which involved any benefit being obtained) but only 6,392 confiscation orders were imposed.

Confiscation proceedings are initiated by the prosecution.  There are no published criteria specifying when confiscation proceedings will be initiated.  Where the defendant has obtained a benefit from an offence of which he has been convicted and the prosecution ask for confiscation proceedings to be initiated the court has no discretion to refuse.

The legislation is intended to deprive defendants of the benefit they have gained from relevant criminal conduct, whether or not they have retained such benefit, within the limits of their available means.  The benefit gained is the total value of the property or advantage obtained, not the defendant’s net profit after deduction of expenses.

 

The court procedure

Whilst the judge can make a confiscation order at the time of sentencing a convicted defendant, in many cases the judge will at that time simply set a timetable for further steps towards confiscation.

This normally involves firstly a requirement for the defendant to supply detailed information about his financial affairs; secondly the prosecution to provide a report identifying the amount of benefit said to have been obtained by the defendant and (usually) identifying his ‘available amount‘ (this is referred to as the s16 statement); thirdly the defendant is required to respond to the prosecution’s report indicating the extent to which he agrees and disagrees with it; and finally there will be a hearing scheduled which will culminate in the making of the confiscation order.

In practice the initial timetable may be revised if difficulties or delays arise so these steps may take months, or even years, to complete.

Evidence which would be inadmissible at trial may be admitted in confiscation proceedings.

 

The three decisions

Assuming that the defendant has obtained a benefit from an offence of which he has been convicted, the court then has three key decisions to make.

  • Firstly what benefit has the defendant obtained from the offence or offences of which he has been convicted (including any other offences ‘taken into consideration’ when sentencing)?
  • Secondly, if the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘, what benefit is he to be assumed to have obtained in addition to the benefit obtained from the offence or offences of which he has been convicted?
  • Thirdly what is his ‘available amount‘?

In confiscation proceedings the burden of proof generally rests upon the defendant rather than the prosecutor – particularly in rebutting the statutory assumptions where the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ and in satisfying the court that the defendant has an ‘available amount‘ which is less than his ‘benefit’.  In each case the court will make its decision on the basis of the ‘balance of probabilities’, see s6(7) PoCA 2002.

 

Benefit obtained from the offence

The legal position is that a person obtains a benefit from criminal conduct if he obtains ‘property’ (which means an asset of any description) or a pecuniary advantage as a result of or in connection with that criminal conduct, see s76 PoCA 2002.

Sometimes the benefit obtained from the offence is quite obvious.  If I steal £10,000 from your bank account I have obviously obtained a benefit of £10,000.

But in many cases the benefit obtained will be less obvious.  For example if John is a member of a group of people and is convicted of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs there may be a number of issues arising concerning the extent of John’s involvement in the conspiracy and the valuation of the drugs.  If Peter has obtained a mortgage advance dishonestly his benefit will be a proportion of the increase in value of the property since he purchased it.

However the courts will always be looking to the benefit “obtained” – not the benefit “retained”.  Where the court is satisfied that a particular benefit has been obtained jointly by more than one person it will treat each person as having obtained the whole of that benefit – but will place a cap on the overall recovery of jointly obtained benefit from the different defendants.

 

Assumed benefit of criminal lifestyle

In many cases the defendant will be held to have a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ and this will trigger the statutory assumptions set out in s10 PoCA 2002.  The effect may be to increase very substantially the defendant’s total alleged benefit.

These assumptions relate to the defendant’s receipts and payments since the ‘relevant day’ (normally the day six years before the day on which he was charged with the offence) up to the day on which the court makes the confiscation order (but in practice the assumptions are usually applied only up to an earlier date for convenience) and the defendant’s assets held at any time after the date of his conviction (whenever they were first obtained).

A defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ if the criteria set out in s75 are satisfied, but not otherwise.  The criteria relate to the offence or offences of which the defendant has been convicted – they do not relate to his ‘lifestyle’ in the everyday sense of that word.

It is in ‘criminal lifestyle‘ cases in which the services of a forensic accountant may prove particularly valuable in challenging the prosecutor’s s16 statement.

There is an obvious danger of excessive benefit figures and double counting where the ‘criminal lifestyle‘ assumptions are made.

 

The defendant’s available amount

The defendant’s ‘available amount‘ includes all his assets currently held (with a deduction for liabilities secured on those assets) and the current value of any ‘tainted gifts’ he has made, see s9 and s81 PoCA 2002.

The court will not consider, for the purpose of determining the defendant’s ‘available amount‘, whether those assets which he currently holds were obtained legitimately or not – that does not matter at this stage.

 

The confiscation order

In order to reach its decisions the court may hold a hearing at which oral and written evidence from both sides will be presented.

However in many confiscation cases the prosecution and defence will negotiate agreed figures for ‘benefit’ and ‘available amount‘ prior to the scheduled hearing of oral evidence.  In that event there will be only a brief hearing before the judge at which he will be invited to approve the agreed figures which then become the basis for the confiscation order.

Before finalising the order the court may need to consider whether the application of the statutory assumptions has created a serious risk of injustice and whether the proposed order would be disproportionate and infringe the defendant’s human rights.

Only very rarely will the amount of the confiscation order be limited to the profit arising from the criminal conduct.

The court will normally order the defendant to pay, within a specified period of time, a sum of money equal to the lower of (a) his total benefit and (b) his available amount.

If the court has no information from which it is able to conclude on the balance of probabilities that the defendant has an ‘available amount‘ which is less than his total ‘benefit’ it will make a confiscation order in the amount of the ‘benefit’.

Where the court accepts that the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ is less than his total ‘benefit’ a brief list of the assets which form the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ should be appended to the confiscation order issued by the court.

The court will typically allow up to six months for payment (from 1 June 2015 this is limited to three months as a result of amendments to confiscation law).  The court will also set a default sentence, which is a period of imprisonment the defendant may be required to serve if he does not pay the required sum.

The defendant may subsequently return to court to ask for a six month extension to the time to pay, making a maximum of 12 months in all from the date of the confiscation order (from 1 June 2015 this is limited to a further three months making six months in all from the date of the confiscation order).

Interest is charged on any amount which remains outstanding after the due date for payment, s12.

 

Appeals

Either prosecution or defence may appeal against the confiscation order.  Appeal is to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and ultimately to the Supreme Court.  An appeal ought to be initiated within 28 days of the confiscation order but late appeals may be heard in some circumstances.

 

Subsequent events

Where a confiscation order has been made in the amount of the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ and subsequent realisation of his assets identified in the confiscation order produces a lesser amount than anticipated, the defendant (or the prosecution) can apply to the court under s23 to have the amount of the defendant’s confiscation order reduced to reflect his revised ‘available amount‘ based on the actual amounts realised.

Where evidence comes to light which was not available to the prosecution at the time of the confiscation hearing which indicates that the defendant’s benefit was greater than that found by the court at that hearing the prosecution can, within 6 years of the date of conviction, apply to the court for the benefit figure to be increased under s20 or s21.

Where a confiscation order has been made in the amount of the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ (which was less than his benefit) the prosecution can apply to the court, at any time, for an order under s22 requiring the defendant to pay a further amount where he has a current ‘available amount‘ which would enable him to satisfy a new order – but he may not be required to pay an amount more than the court believes to be just.  In that sense a confiscation order may be regarded as a ‘life sentence’.

Where only a small balance remains outstanding on a confiscation order the court may discharge the order under s24 or  s25.

Where, following a fresh conviction on a subsequent occasion, a defendant finds himself subject to confiscation proceedings a second time the usual rules may be modified on the second time around.

 

Other confiscation topics

Other confiscation topics, such as restraint orders, the impact of bankruptcy on confiscation and adjustments for changes in the value of money are covered in further articles in this blog.  A full list of confiscation articles is here.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(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.)

A confiscation case study – the career fraudster

Books - copyright David Winch 2014On 16 June 2014 the Court of Appeal in London heard the appeal of Mr Sam Ernest against a confiscation order in the sum of £308,380 made against him at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court.  The Appeal Court judgment R v Ernest [2014] EWCA Crim 1312 makes interesting reading.

Mr Ernest purported to run a business as an events organiser.  He would claim to have contacts from whom he could obtain sought-after tickets to popular high profile events, such as Wimbledon, the London Olympics, rock concerts or film festivals, in return for money.

Mr Ernest sometimes provided the tickets for which he had been paid, but often he would not.  When tickets were not provided he would usually promise refunds – on some occasions refunds were given, but on others they were not.

 

The victims

His victims were in the main either wealthy people or organisations who could afford to pay substantial sums of money for prestige events, or men whom he had befriended or women with whom he entered into relationships.

One woman with whom he was having a relationship got a party of 18 people together, some from the USA, to attend events at the London Olympics.  She paid almost £4,000 to Mr Ernest.  He continued to promise that the tickets would arrive right up until after her friends had arrived in the UK.

In total Mr Ernest defrauded his victims of over £48,000.

 

The police investigation

Mr Ernest’s activities had first been reported to the police in 2009, but they took no action at that stage.  It was not until 2012, when a special team of police officers were investigating fraud associated with tickets for the London Olympics, that attention was focused on his activities.

On discovering that the police wished to speak to him, Mr Ernest prevaricated and would not agree to attend for interview.  No doubt this was in part because he was a United States citizen who had entered the UK on a six month tourist visa in 2005 and was an illegal over-stayer. His passport had expired in 2010.

However in December 2012 Mr Ernest pleaded guilty to 17 counts of fraud and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.  Confiscation proceedings followed.

 

The confiscation proceedings

Mr Ernest was subject to confiscation proceedings on the basis that he had a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ having been convicted in the same proceedings of more than 3 offences from which he had obtained a benefit and had, in aggregate, obtained a benefit of at least £5,000, s75 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The Appeal Court judgment does not, of course, give a full history of the confiscation proceedings.  We do not know what was in the prosecution’s s16 statement or in Mr Ernest’s response.  We do know, however, that the confiscation went to a full hearing in the Crown Court which heard evidence from a Detective Constable Knowles and from Mr Ernest.

 

The prosecution assertions

DC Knowles referred to bank accounts held by a Ms Barbara Howell which had apparently been used by Mr Ernest (and by Ms Howell for legitimate purposes).  There was also a bank account in the name of J Bailey Morgan which apparently Mr Ernest controlled.  DC Knowles considered the movements on these bank accounts since the ‘relevant day’, which it was agreed was 29 August 2006 (six years prior to the date on which Mr Ernest had been charged).

DC Knowles calculated the amount of money in these accounts paid in by known victims together with all of the unexplained credits to the accounts, that is all the monies deposited during the relevant period other than those which represented Ms Howell’s legitimate earnings and funds. This figure came to £209,980. This figure included sums specifically identified as being monies paid into that account by persons identified as victims of Mr Ernest’s activities.

The prosecution invited the court to assume all these sums credited to the various bank accounts to be benefit of Mr Ernest’s general criminal conduct pursuant to s10(2).  Presumably to avoid risk of double counting the prosecution did not seek to assert, as benefit of particular criminal conduct, any additional benefit of the 17 offences of which Mr Ernest had been convicted.

However the prosecution did assert that a further assumed benefit arose, under s10(4), in respect of Mr Ernest’s day to day living expenses over the period since the ‘relevant day’.  These were estimated at £16,400 per year for 6 years, so £98,400 in total.  The prosecution accepted that to some extent Mr Ernest had been financially supported over this period by a succession of girlfriends but contended that, even so, he would have incurred this £98,400 expenditure himself.

In consequence, the prosecution’s total benefit figure was £308,380.  The prosecution apparently did not accept that Mr Ernest’s ‘available amount’ would be less than his benefit.

 

The defence evidence

Mr Ernest asserted that on at least some occasions he had supplied tickets for which he had been paid and on other occasions he had made refunds to customers.  So it would not be correct, in his view, to treat the entirety of the sums banked as benefit.  He also asserted that he had no assets available and no hidden assets.

However the defence produced no books and records of the business and no report of a forensic accountant, nor did the defence produce documentary evidence of Mr Ernest’s current ‘available amount’.  The defence relied upon the oral evidence of Mr Ernest.

 

The judgment in the Crown Court

The Crown Court judge entirely rejected the oral evidence of Mr Ernest.  He was, the judge concluded, a “career fraudster” who had used the bank accounts of others and had produced no documents in support of his oral evidence.  The judge concluded that he was a dishonest man who had lied repeatedly under oath.

The judge accepted the benefit figure of £308,380 asserted by the prosecution and found that the defendant had not discharged the burden upon him to show that his ‘available amount’ was less than his benefit.

Accordingly he ordered Mr Ernest to pay £308,380 within 6 months, with a default sentence of 3 years consecutive to the prison term he was already serving.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment

On appeal it was argued that the judge should have reduced the benefit figure to reflect legitimate business activities conducted by Mr Ernest where he had provided tickets or had made refunds.  Furthermore Mr Ernest had incurred expenditures in obtaining the tickets which he had supplied.

The Court of Appeal would have none of this.  It noted the absence of evidence in support of the asserted legitimate activities and commented that “the fact that some unidentified proportion of that money might conceivably be referable to some specific (but unidentified) business transaction does not render the making of the assumption incorrect”.

The Court was not prepared to make any reduction in the benefit figure in respect of expenses which Mr Ernest might have incurred.  It regarded the occasional provision of tickets by Mr Ernest as a means of furthering his fraudulent purpose by luring customers to do more business with him.

The £209,980 assumed benefit arising from credits to the bank accounts was therefore upheld.

But the Court of Appeal did accept that the bank statements showed expenditures by Mr Ernest on his living costs.  These expenditures had therefore been met from monies already included in assumed benefit.  This undermined the prosecution’s assertion that Mr Ernest would have incurred £98,400 of living expenditure funded entirely by additional assumed criminal conduct.  There was no other suitable figure before the court, so this head of benefit was omitted on appeal.

In consequence the benefit figure was reduced to £209,980.  The court ordered Mr Ernest to pay this lower figure and reduced the default sentence to 2 years 6 months.

 

Commentary

One doesn’t know whether in this case the defence had instructed a forensic accountant or not.  It is possible that a forensic accountant’s report had been obtained but had not been disclosed as part of the defence evidence (perhaps for good reason!).

However it should come as no surprise to find a Crown Court judge entirely rejecting the unsupported oral evidence of a convicted defendant.  Possibly if a forensic accountant had given evidence in the Crown Court confiscation hearing the judge might have accepted that the defendant, having incurred the expenses shown on the bank accounts, would not have had an ‘available amount’ equal to the total of his assumed benefit.  Such a conclusion would have been consistent with the Court of Appeal decision in McIntosh & Marsden v R [2011] EWCA Crim 1501.

In the event this defendant seems destined to serve his default sentence in due course.

David

(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.)

Confiscation – challenging the prosecutor’s s16 statement

Legal wig copyright David Winch 2014How should the defence challenge the prosecutor’s assertions concerning the defendant’s benefit and available amount?

The prosecutor’s s16 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 statement is a key document in confiscation proceedings.  In preparing the s16 statement the prosecution will have considered the offence(s) of which the defendant has been convicted; the evidence at trial (or readied for trial where there has been a guilty plea) and other information collected during investigation of the offence; information provided by the defendant in any statement under s18 or in response to any requirement in a restraint order under s41(7); information obtained from banks and others (perhaps by way of a production order under s345); and the results of the prosecution’s own investigations – probably undertaken by an accredited financial investigator.

 

Variety

Prosecution s16 statements are prepared in a wide variety of circumstances.  No two s16 statements will be the same – though they all have some similarities.  In any event the s16 statement will need careful study.  Typically the body of the s16 statement will run to between 10 and 30 pages with supporting appendices which could run to several hundred pages, and may include spreadsheets.

The s16 statement is likely to include some background narrative which sets the confiscation proceedings into context, including a description of the court proceedings resulting in the conviction and any restraint order which has been obtained.   There may also be information about the defendant (date of birth, previous convictions, etc) and information about his known legitimate income.

The defence legal team will wish to challenge any incorrect factual assertions in that narrative – but this narrative background is not at the heart of the s16 statement.

 

Financial investigations and ‘benefit’

The s16 statement will then move on, probably providing some details about the financial investigations undertaken by the prosecution and their findings about the defendant’s financial affairs.  That leads to the prosecution assertions about the defendant’s ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

In this context ‘benefit’ has a special meaning based on the statutory provisions – it does not refer to what might be the defendant’s benefit in the everyday sense of the word.

 

‘Benefit’ of the offences

The first element of the defendant’s ‘benefit’ which the s16 statement will deal with is the ‘benefit’ of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted, sometimes referred to as the ‘direct benefit’ or the ‘benefit of particular criminal conduct’.  Here the prosecution are considering what the defendant ‘obtained’ as a result of the offences of which he has been convicted in the proceedings which triggered the confiscation.

This may be very easy to establish.  If the defendant has been convicted of, say, stealing a cheque for £10,000 payable to someone else and paying it into his own bank account then the ‘benefit’ of that offence is £10,000 (possibly uplifted for changes in the Retail Prices Index since the date of the theft).

But in many cases the ‘benefit’ of the offence will be less clear cut.  For example there may be theft of cash where there are inadequate records to quantity the amount of cash stolen, or supply of controlled drugs where there are no records of the monies received for the drugs, or the defendant may have been a member of a conspiracy (meaning it will be necessary to ascertain the amount ‘obtained’ by this particular defendant in his role in that conspiracy).

In rare cases the ‘benefit’ may be based on the profit deriving from fundamentally legitimate business operations which have been tainted by criminality, as in the case of R v Sale.

The ‘benefit’ asserted by the prosecution may also include assets which need to be valued, such as controlled drugs seized at the time of the defendant’s arrest.

In other cases the ‘benefit’ may be based on a ‘pecuniary advantage’ arising from the evasion of a liability – for example evasion of income tax, VAT or duties on goods.

In a minority of cases the prosecution may not be asserting that the defendant has obtained any benefit at all from the offences of which he has been convicted.

 

Assumed ‘benefit’

If the prosecution assert that the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle’ then the s16 statement will also deal with additional assumed ‘benefit’ which arises under the statutory assumptions of s10 PoCA 2002.  The statutory assumptions apply to the defendant’s receipts and expenditures since the ‘relevant day’ (which is usually 6 years prior to the date on which the defendant was charged with the offences of which he has been convicted) and to any assets held by the defendant since the date of his conviction.

Typically the prosecution will have obtained bank and credit card statements for all known bank and credit card accounts held by the defendant and will have reviewed all deposits to those accounts since the ‘relevant day’.  They may also have information about the defendant’s expenditures since the ‘relevant day’ – for example as a result of examining documents seized from searches of the defendant’s premises or considering information provided by the defendant in recorded interviews or in his s18 statement.  In addition the prosecution may have obtained Land Registry records or solicitors’ conveyancing files regarding property purchases, and mortgage account statements.

These same sources of information may be the basis for assertions of assumed ‘benefit’ in respect of any assets held by the defendant after the date of his conviction.

 

‘Available amount’

Finally the prosecutor’s s16 statement will deal with the defendant’s ‘available amount’.  Again this is a term defined by statute which does not mean simply the amount which the defendant has available to meet the confiscation order.  It refers to the current market value of the defendant’s assets, less any mortgage or other liability which is secured on those assets, plus the current value of any ‘tainted gift’ which the defendant has made.

However many of the defendant’s liabilities, such as unsecured borrowings and unpaid bills, will be ignored when computing the defendant’s ‘available amount’.

 

Default sentence

The s16 statement may conclude with an indication of the range of default sentences applicable where a confiscation order remains unpaid.

 

Challenging the s16 statement

The defence will wish to scrutinise in detail the prosecution assertions in relation to both the defendant’s ‘benefit’ and his ‘available amount’.  The focus of the defence challenge to the prosecutor’s figures will depend very much on the details within the s16 statement.

In relation to the ‘benefit’ of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted the defence will wish to consider the existence of the asserted ‘benefit’; whether it has been ‘obtained’ by the defendant himself, solely or jointly; and whether it is correctly valued.

Regarding the assumed ‘benefit’ the defence will wish to consider whether the criteria for a ‘criminal lifestyle’ have been met; whether the ‘relevant day’ has been correctly identified; the existence of the asserted receipts, expenditures and assets of the defendant himself (which may involve careful consideration of bank accounts and assets held in joint names and consideration of ‘lifting the corporate veil’); any evidence of the legitimate nature of those receipts and legitimate funds used to finance those expenditures and the purchase of those assets; any overlap or double counting between the various heads of asserted ‘benefit’ including, for example, where monies have been withdrawn from one of the defendant’s bank accounts and paid in to another; and the valuation of the various items reflected in the assumed ‘benefit’.

In relation to the asserted ‘available amount’ the defence will again consider the existence of those assets; the ownership of them by the defendant himself so as to exclude any interest of third parties; the current market value of those assets; and the amount of any liabilities secured on those assets.

Particular difficulties may arise where the ‘available amount’ is said to include any ‘tainted gifts’ or ‘hidden assets’.

Ultimately the defence will also wish to consider whether the use of the statutory assumptions involves a ‘serious risk of injustice’ or the confiscation order sought by the prosecution would be disproportionate and so infringe the defendant’s human rights.

All of these matters will feed in to the drafting of a s17 statement to be signed by the defendant and filed in response to the prosecution’s s16 statement, and the defence preparation for the confiscation hearing in the Crown Court.

 

Use of a forensic accountant

A forensic accountant may be able to assist the defence in challenging a number of aspects of the s16 statement.  This is likely to be particularly important in cases involving ‘assumed benefit’ under the ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions.  A forensic accountant may be better placed than the solicitor to undertake detailed examination of the figures and financial documents underlying the prosecution’s s16 assertions.

The cost of a forensic accountant’s report will normally be met by criminal legal aid under prior authority arrangements.

As a first step it is advisable to ask the forensic accountant to provide a fee quotation (to be forwarded to the Legal Aid Agency with an application for prior authority).  In order to prepare his quotation the forensic accountant should ideally be provided with a copy of the body of the prosecutor’s s16 statement, an approximate page count of the appendices to that statement, a copy of the defendant’s s18 statement, any advice which may have been obtained from counsel in relation to the s16 statement, and a note of the court timetable for the submission of the defendant’s response in the form of a s17 statement.

Where the appendices to the s16 statement include spreadsheets it is usual to ask the prosecution to supply electronic copies of the Excel spreadsheets (not the PDFs) either on disc or as email attachments.

Once the prior authority has been obtained the forensic accountant’s work can get underway!

David

(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.)