Category Archives: Money laundering

Money laundering

Bank account frozen

BanksFrom time to time I am contacted by people who have found their bank account frozen by the bank without warning or explanation.  Perhaps the account holder discovers this when he attempts to use a debit card, draw cash from an ATM, use online banking, or visit his bank to pay money in or take it out.

What should the customer do and what can he expect to happen?

 

Contact the bank

The first thing to do is to contact the bank and ask for an explanation.  The bank might be rather evasive in response – perhaps referring to ‘technical difficulties’ – or the bank may refer the customer to a specialist department (such as the fraud department) – or the bank may hand over a pre-printed leaflet about money laundering.  But the bank are unlikely to provide a full explanation about what is happening or when the account will be unfrozen.

If the bank won’t tell the account holder what is going on the likelihood is that someone at the bank has flagged up the account for possible ‘money laundering’.  In other words someone at the bank (or the bank’s computer system) has noted what appears to be unusual activity on the account which might be connected to proceeds of some sort of crime.

If that is the case then it may be helpful if the customer very swiftly supplies to the bank further information, explanations and, if possible, documentary evidence in support of an innocent explanation for any unusual recent transactions.

Also, if there is a particularly urgent need to have the account unfrozen – for example where the account is a business account and it is necessary to pay employees’ wages or a supplier almost immediately – tell the bank about the urgency.

The bank will not disclose which transactions have triggered their action or what suspicions they have, so the customer will be left guessing how he can best put the bank’s mind at rest.

But that further information needs to be supplied as quickly as possible, preferably the same day – delaying for a couple of days will probably be too long.

 

Inside the bank

What is happening inside the bank is probably that the customer’s account (or accounts) will have been referred to the bank’s anti-money laundering or anti-fraud department for consideration of whether a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) should be made to the National Crime Agency (NCA) by the bank’s Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO).

If the MLRO decides that there is a valid basis for a suspicion of money laundering (which is very widely defined) then an SAR will promptly be submitted to the NCA.  The SAR will ask the NCA to give consent for the bank to unfreeze the account.  Once that SAR is submitted matters will be largely out of the bank’s control – which means that nothing is likely to be achieved after that time by the customer supplying further information, or making a complaint, to the bank.

But the bank will not normally tell the customer whether it has made an SAR or when the SAR was submitted.

Once the bank has submitted an SAR to the NCA the account will remain frozen until either the NCA have replied to the bank authorising the bank to unfreeze the account, or the ‘notice period’ has elapsed without the bank receiving any response at all from the NCA.

The ‘notice period’ is seven working days starting from the day after the bank submits the SAR to the NCA.  So, for example, if the bank submitted an SAR on Thursday 9 June 2016 the ‘notice period’ would end on Monday 20 June.

In practice however the NCA aim to respond to these consent requests before the end of the ‘notice period’.  If the NCA are told by the bank that there is a particular urgency they will attempt to respond particularly swiftly (which is one of the reasons the customer should tell the bank if there is a particularly urgent need to have the account unfrozen).

If the NCA require further time to consider the matter they will respond to the bank by refusing consent.  Once that happens the account will remain frozen until the ‘moratorium period’ expires.  The ‘moratorium period’ is 31 days starting with the day on which the bank receives refusal of consent from the NCA.

So, for example, if the bank receives refusal of consent on Thursday 16 June 2016 the last day of the ‘moratorium period’ will be Saturday 16 July.  The account should then be unfrozen on the next working day.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Finances Act 2017 included legislation which allows a court to extend the ‘moratorium period’ by up to a further six months (an additional 186 days).  This is now in force.]

During the ‘moratorium period’ the NCA will continue to consider the position and may at any time give the bank consent to unfreeze the account.

If the NCA do not give consent then the bank should unfreeze the account once the ‘moratorium period’ has expired unless in the meantime the authorities have obtained a ‘restraint order’ from a Crown Court judge.

If a ‘restraint order’ has been obtained from a Crown Court judge then copies of that order are served promptly on the bank and on the customer (and perhaps also on others, such as the Land Registry).  A ‘restraint order’ will normally freeze all the assets of the customer indefinitely.  There is more information about ‘restraint orders’ HERE.

A customer who is served with a copy of a Crown Court ‘restraint order’ should seek advice from a solicitor experienced in such matters immediately.

 

What can the customer do?

The bank ‘s customer will not know whether the bank has submitted an SAR to the NCA, when the SAR was submitted, or what response has been received from the NCA, if any.

Because of this the customer will not know when the ‘notice period’ or the ‘moratorium period’ are due to expire.

Aside from very swiftly providing additional information and documents and telling the bank about any particularly urgent need to have the account unfrozen, as already mentioned, the customer will be able to do little more than check with the bank every day whether his account has been unfrozen.

 

What about the Banking Ombudsman?

In my experience the Banking Ombudsman does not intervene where the bank has a suspicion of money laundering and is acting in accordance with its Terms and Conditions.

 

How often are bank accounts frozen?

Figures published by the NCA indicate that they receive approximately 8,000 consent requests each year from banks, building societies and similar institutions.

The NCA on average respond to these consent requests in five working days – and give consent in about 90% of cases.  In about a further 5% of cases they give consent during the moratorium period.

However even where consent is granted the bank’s customer may become the subject of an investigation by the authorities (such as the police, HM Revenue and Customs or the Single Fraud Investigation Service).

 

What is the legal basis for this?

Most of the relevant law is to be found in Part 7, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 – particularly in s335 and s340.

A case concerning the freezing of a bank account when a suspicious activity report had been filed with the NCA by the bank was considered by the Court of Appeal in London in the case of The National Crime Agency v N & Royal Bank of Scotland plc [2017] EWCA Civ 253 (07 April 2017).  The court concluded that it would only very rarely be appropriate for the court to interfere with the temporary freezing of a bank account where a report had been made to the NCA.

 

How long will the account be frozen?

In the majority of cases the account should be unfrozen within about two weeks.  In a minority of cases the account will be frozen for up to about six weeks, perhaps slightly longer.

[UPDATE: The Criminal Finances Act 2017 included legislation which allows a court to extend the ‘moratorium period’ by up to a further six months (an additional 186 days) which means that an account can be frozen for up to about 32 weeks without a ‘restraint order’. This is now in force.]

Where a ‘restraint order’ is obtained the account will remain frozen after that.

 

What happens after the account is unfrozen?

After the account is unfrozen the bank’s relationship with the customer may return to normal or the bank may write to the customer asking him to close his account (or accounts) within 60 days and move to another bank.

The bank may not give any reason for requiring the customer to close his account.

 

Can the customer claim damages against the bank?

I am not aware of any cases in which bank customers have successfully claimed damages against their bank in relation to an account which has been frozen because of a reasonable suspicion of money laundering (even where, on investigation, no ‘money laundering’ was discovered).

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

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

Money Laundering Regulations 2017

Big Ben imageThe final wording of the new Money Laundering Regulations 2017 was published on 22 June 2017. To give them their full title The Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 came into force on 26 June 2017.  The reality is however that the new Regulations will take a year or two to be fully effective.

The Regulations run to over 100 pages.  I cannot describe them fully in a blog such as this, but I will mention a few points of interest.  These regulations replace the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 (as amended) and The Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2007.  Many of the provisions of the 2017 Regulations simply continue requirements of the 2007 ones.  But there are some changes of emphasis and important new requirements too.  The new Regulations also implement in UK law the requirements of the EU Fourth Money Laundering Directive.

  1. The hierarchy of risk assessments
  2. Written policies, controls and procedures
  3. Changes for High Value Dealers
  4. Changes for Estate Agents
  5. Politically exposed persons
  6. Banning persons with criminal convictions
  7. Conclusion
  8. Contacting us

 

The hierarchy of risk assessments

The new Regulations set out a hierarchy of risk assessments.  The UK government, in particular HM Treasury and Home Office, are required by regulation 16 to make arrangements before 26 June 2018 for a risk assessment to be undertaken to identify, assess, understand and mitigate the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing affecting the United Kingdom.

Then under regulation 17 each of the various supervisory bodies must identify and assess the international and domestic risks of money laundering and terrorist financing to which those relevant persons for which it is the supervisory authority (“its own sector”) are subject.  The supervisory body must take into account the risk assessment from HM Treasury and Home Office.

Finally under regulation 18 each ‘relevant person’ (businesses in the regulated sector) must take appropriate steps to identify and assess the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing to which its own business is subject.

In carrying out that risk assessment a relevant person must take into account information made available to it by its supervisory authority and its own risk factors. Those will include risk factors relating to its customers, the countries or geographic areas in which it operates, its products or services, its transactions and its delivery channels.

 

Written policies, controls and procedures

The new Regulations are much more prescriptive about the written policies, controls and procedures required.  Regulation 19 in particular spells out these requirements.

    • (1) A relevant person must
      • (a) establish and maintain policies, controls and procedures to mitigate and manage effectively the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing identified in any risk assessment undertaken by the relevant person under regulation 18(1);
      • (b) regularly review and update the policies, controls and procedures established under sub-paragraph (a);
      • (c) maintain a record in writing of —
        • (i) the policies, controls and procedures established under sub-paragraph (a);
        • (ii) any changes to those policies, controls and procedures made as a result of the review and update required by sub-paragraph (b); and
        • (iii) the steps taken to communicate those policies, controls and procedures, or any changes to them, within the relevant person’s business.
    • (2) The policies, controls and procedures adopted by a relevant person under paragraph (1) must be —
      • (a) proportionate with regard to the size and nature of the relevant person’s business, and
      • (b) approved by its senior management.
    • (3) The policies, controls and procedures referred to in paragraph (1) must include —
      • (a) risk management practices;
      • (b) internal controls (see regulations 21 to 24);
      • (c) customer due diligence (see regulations 27 to 38);
      • (d) reliance and record keeping (see regulations 39 to 40);
      • (e) the monitoring and management of compliance with, and the internal communication of, such policies, controls and procedures.
    • (4) The policies, controls and procedures referred to in paragraph (1) must include policies, controls and procedures —
      • (a) which provide for the identification and scrutiny of –
        • (i) any case where —
          • (aa) a transaction is complex and unusually large, or there is an unusual pattern of transactions, and
          • (bb) the transaction or transactions have no apparent economic or legal purpose, and
        • (ii) any other activity or situation which the relevant person regards as particularly likely by its nature to be related to money laundering or terrorist financing;
      • (b) which specify the taking of additional measures, where appropriate, to prevent the use for money laundering or terrorist financing of products and transactions which might favour anonymity;
      • (c) which ensure that when new technology is adopted by the relevant person, appropriate measures are taken in preparation for, and during, the adoption of such technology to assess and if necessary mitigate any money laundering or terrorist financing risks this new technology may cause;
      • (d) under which anyone in the relevant person’s organisation who knows or suspects (or has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting) that a person is engaged in money laundering or terrorist financing as a result of information received in the course of the business or otherwise through carrying on that business is required to comply with —
        • (i) Part 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000; or
        • (ii) Part 7 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002;
      • (e) which, in the case of a money service business that uses agents for the purpose of its business, ensure that appropriate measures are taken by the business to assess —
        • (i) whether an agent used by the business would satisfy the fit and proper test provided for in regulation 58; and
        • (ii) the extent of the risk that the agent may be used for money laundering or terrorist financing.
    • (5) In determining what is appropriate or proportionate with regard to the size and nature of its business, a relevant person may take into account any guidance which has been —
      • (a) issued by the FCA; or
      • (b) issued by any other supervisory authority or appropriate body and approved by the Treasury.

This regulation effectively requires each business in the regulated sector to draw up new written statements of policies, controls and procedures.

 

Changes for High Value Dealers

It was expected that the monetary lower limit for cash transactions would be reduced from €15,000.  That has indeed happened and the new limit is €10,000.  This means that when a firm or sole trader who by way of business trades in goods (including an auctioneer dealing in goods) receives, in respect of any transaction, a payment or payments in cash of at least 10,000 euros (or equivalent) in total he is acting as a ‘high value dealer’ and is subject to the Regulations.  As previously, this applies whether the transaction is executed in a single operation or in several operations which appear to be linked.

But Regulation 14 makes two other changes for High Valuer Dealers.  Now these Regulations apply where such a trader makes such a payment as well as when he receives one.

Also the regulation specifies that a payment does not cease to be a “payment in cash” for these purposes if cash is paid by or on behalf of the person making the payment to a person other than the other party to the transaction for the benefit of the other party, or into a bank account for the benefit of the other party to the transaction.

 

Changes for Estate Agents

An important change for estate agents is that by Regulation 4 an estate agent is to be treated as entering into a business relationship with a purchaser (as well as with a seller) at the point when the purchaser’s offer is accepted by the seller.

This means that at that stage the estate agent will have to complete customer due diligence on the purchaser of a property.  That was not previously required where the estate agent had been instructed by the seller.

This provision may help to address concerns about overseas buyers using tainted funds to purchase properties in the UK.

 

Politically exposed persons

A new definition of ‘politically exposed persons’ in Regulation 35 means that a UK senior politician entrusted with prominent public functions would also now be regarded as a PEP.  As a result additional anti-money laundering precautions are necessary when dealing with him or with a family member or close associate of his.

 

Banning persons with criminal convictions

The Regulations effectively will prevent a person who has been convicted of a ‘relevant offence’ from being a beneficial owner, officer or manager of a firm or a sole practitioner in specified types of business within the regulated sector.  This is achieved by Regulation 26 using a rather circuitous mechanism.

The regulation requires beneficial owners, officers and managers of a firm and sole practitioners to be approved by their supervisory body (before 26 June 2018) if the firm is an accountant, tax adviser, auditor, insolvency practitioner, legal professional, estate agent or high value dealer.  But the supervisory body is required to approve anyone who applies to it unless the applicant has been convicted of a ‘relevant offence’.  If a person is inadvertently approved who has a conviction for a ‘relevant offence’ their approval is invalid (and a valid approval becomes invalid when an approved person is newly convicted).

There is a list of ‘relevant offences’ in Schedule 3 to the Regulations.  These include “any offence which has deception or dishonesty as one of its components” as well as a long list of specified offences, including offences under the Data Protection Act 1998 and Perjury Act 1911, for example.  Unsurprisingly, tax and money laundering offences are included in the list.

One ramification of this will be that for an accountant, for example, being convicted of a ‘relevant offence’ could effectively end his career.

It is not clear, to me at least, whether this will affect persons who have old offences which would be regarded for most purposes as ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

 

Conclusion

The Money Laundering Regulations 2017 make significant changes to the law which will affect every business in the regulated sector.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article deals with the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017 so far as they apply in England and Wales. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

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.)

Criminal Finances Act 2017

Big Ben imageThe new Criminal Finances Bill was published on 13 October 2016. Consideration of the detailed provisions of the Bill by MPs and Lords has now been completed and limited amendments have been made to the original Bill.  When this blog post was last updated (16 April 2018) the final version of the Bill had received Royal Assent and had become the Criminal Finances Act 2017.  However most of the operative sections of the Act are being brought into force by regulations which are being made in stages (updates to the text below indicate provisions which are in force).

The new Act strengthens civil recovery of the proceeds of crime; creates ‘unexplained wealth orders’; creates new offences of failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion; and extends existing investigation powers in relation to money laundering and terrorist finances.

It appears that the provisions in the Bill were largely based on suggestions from investigators and prosecutors.  Insofar as the Bill was criticised in parliament those criticisms were to the effect that the Bill’s provisions did not go far enough.

WARNING – THIS IS A LENGTHY BLOG POST – OVER 2,000 WORDS

 

  1. Strengthening civil recovery powers
  2. Unexplained wealth orders
  3. Failing to prevent the facilitation of tax offences
  4. Suspicious Activity Reports and the moratorium period
  5. Tidying up investigation powers
  6. Conclusion
  7. Contacting us

 

Strengthening civil recovery powers

Originally Part 5 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which deals with civil recovery, contained 87 sections (numbered 240 to 326).  Previous amendments have deleted two of those sections but added 31 new ones.  The new Act adds a further 45 new sections to Part 5 in two entirely new chapters, chapter 3A ‘Recovery of listed assets in summary proceedings’ and chapter 3B ‘Forfeiture of money held in bank and building society accounts’.

The existing chapter 3 of PoCA 2002 (which continues in force) makes provision for officers to search for cash, for the detention of cash where (on ‘reasonable grounds’) that cash is suspected to be ‘recoverable property’ (which broadly means proceeds of crime) or is suspected to be intended for use in crime, and is more than the ‘minimum amount’ (which is £1,000), and for the forfeiture of seized cash where the court is satisfied (on a balance of probabilities) that the cash is ‘recoverable property’ or is intended for use in crime (or where no objection has been raised to forfeiture).

In essence the new chapter 3B, inserted by s16, extends similar provisions (except the search provisions) to monies in bank or building society accounts.  That will involve a bank or building society account initially being ‘frozen’ for a period of up to 2 years by an ‘account freezing order’ made in the Magistrates’ Court (which, like a Crown Court restraint order, may initially be made on an ex parte basis).  Application could then be made, by way of an ‘account forfeiture notice’, for monies in the ‘frozen’ account to be forfeit to the Crown without the necessity of a further appearance in the Magistrates’ Court.  Alternatively, or if an objection were made (in writing and normally within 30 days) to the ‘account forfeiture notice’ (for example by the account holder or another interested party), a hearing in the Magistrates’ Court would be required before the monies could be forfeit.

There is provision for the account holder to be informed of the making of an ‘account freezing order’ and the issue of an ‘account forfeiture notice’ and for allowances to be made for monies to be drawn from a ‘frozen’ account – for example to meet living expenses or to allow the running of a business, as well as to meet appropriate legal costs.  There are also provisions to cater for setting aside or variation of an ‘account freezing order’ and for late objections and appeals.

The new chapter 3A, inserted by s15, extends similar provisions (including search provisions) to ‘listed assets’ which  include precious metals, precious stones, watches, artistic works, face-value vouchers and postage stamps.  The chapter 3A provisions also cater for associated property and joint property (where only part of an asset is subject to forfeiture).  Again a ‘minimum value’ of £1,000 applies.

The Act also provides, s14, for the definition of “cash” in s289 PoCA 2002 to be extended.  The definition already included cheques (including travellers’ cheques), bankers’ drafts, postal orders, bearer bonds and bearer shares.  It will now include gaming vouchers, fixed-value casino tokens and betting receipts.  The idea is to cover what might be described as ‘cash substitutes’ which could be used by criminals as an alternative means of transferring value.  A similar amendment is made to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 in respect of “terrorist cash”.

The scope of ‘unlawful conduct’ which may be the basis of civil recovery action under Part 5, PoCA 2002 is extended by s13 to include ‘gross human rights abuse or violation’ which is defined by a new section 241A PoCA 2002.

[UPDATE: The provisions of s16, inserting a new chapter 3B into PoCA 2002, came into force on 31 January 2018.  The provisions of s15, inserting a new chapter 3A into PoCA 2002, and s14, extending the definition of cash, came into force on 16 April 2018.]

 

Unexplained wealth orders

The Act creates ‘unexplained wealth orders’ by s1.  An ‘unexplained wealth order’ requires an individual to set out the nature and extent of his interest in the property specified in the order, and to explain how he obtained that property in cases where that person’s known income does not explain ownership of that property.

It therefore allows an enforcement authority to require an individual to explain the origin of assets that appear to be disproportionate to his income.  It is important to recognise that ‘unexplained wealth orders’ form part of chapter 8 of PoCA 2002 which deals with powers of investigation (new sections applicable to England and Wales are inserted after s362 of PoCA 2002) – rather than part 5 which deals with civil recovery.

Applications for ‘unexplained wealth orders’ are to be made to the High Court, who would need to be satisfied either that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the respondent is, or has been, involved in serious crime (or a person connected with the respondent is, or has been, so involved) or that the respondent is an overseas ‘politically exposed person’ (meaning an individual who has been entrusted with prominent public functions by an international organisation or a State outside of the UK or the European Economic Area, or a close relative or associate of such a person).

Serious crime refers to an offence set out in Schedule 1 to the Serious Crime Act 2007 (including some drug trafficking, arms trafficking, people trafficking and modern slavery offences, organised crime, money laundering, firearms offences, prostitution offences, fraud, tax evasion, bribery, counterfeiting and trade mark offences, poaching and environmental offences).

In the case of an overseas ‘politically exposed person’ there would be no requirement for a suspicion of serious criminality.

In the original Bill, an application for an ‘unexplained wealth order’ could only be made in connection with property having a value greater than £100,000.  During the Bill’s passage through parliament this figure was reduced to £50,000.

Where a person provides information in response to an ‘unexplained wealth order’ the authority may use that information as a basis for civil recovery proceedings under Part 5 or in connection with any confiscation proceedings under Part 2 PoCA 2002.

Where a person fails to provide information in response to an ‘unexplained wealth order’ (without reasonable excuse) there will be a rebuttable presumption that the property in question is ‘recoverable property’ for the purposes of any civil recovery proceedings taken subsequently.

Alongside the proposed new ‘unexplained wealth orders’ will be new ‘interim freezing orders’, introduced by s2, to ‘freeze’ assets subject to ‘unexplained wealth orders’ to prevent their dissipation.

[UPDATE: The provisions relating to unexplained wealth orders came into force on 31 January 2018.]

 

Failing to prevent the facilitation of tax offences

The Act creates, at sections 44 to 52, a new offence of failing to prevent the facilitation of tax offences.  This new offence may be committed by an organisation such as a limited company or a partnership (but not by an individual).  The essence of the offence is that where an individual has committed an offence which has facilitated a tax offence by another, then the organisation with which he is connected (typically his employer) may be prosecuted for its failure to prevent the individual committing his offence.

For example if an employee of a bank or a firm of accountants facilitates a tax offence by a customer or client then not only will that employee be liable to prosecution (as he is now) for his criminal conduct in facilitating the tax offence but the organisation will be liable to prosecution for this new offence.  In this way the government intends to hold organisations to account for the criminal misconduct of their employees and other persons acting on their behalf.

Under existing law the organisation would only be liable to prosecution if the ‘directing minds’ of the organisation were engaged in criminal conduct.  Because employees who commit tax evasion facilitation offences are typically not at the most senior level of the organisation which employs them the organisation itself is not currently at risk of prosecution.  The Act changes that.

The new offence is modelled on the s7 Bribery Act 2010 offence of failing to prevent bribery.

As with the Bribery Act offence, guidance will be issued to assist organisations to set up appropriate procedures to prevent tax evasion facilitation offences by their employees and agents.  Key principles are likely to include risk assessment, prevention procedures, due diligence, staff training, and monitoring and review.

[UPDATE: These provisions came into force on 30 September 2017.]

 

Suspicious Activity Reports and the moratorium period

Provisions in the Act aim to make more effective the Suspicious Activity Reports regime.  There is a new power, introduced by s12, allowing the National Crime Agency to require any person within the ‘regulated sector’ (that is businesses subject to the Money Laundering Regulations and obliged to make a Suspicious Activity Report in appropriate circumstances) to provide relevant information to the NCA where the NCA has received a SAR (whether from that person or another) or a request by an overseas authority.  If necessary an order may be made in the Magistrates’ Court compelling disclosure of the required information (with a penalty of up to £5,000 for non-compliance).

Previously the SARs regime operated on a ‘shop and stop’ basis.  Where a reporting entity, such as a bank or firm of accountants or lawyers, made a report it was relieved of any obligation of client confidentiality with regard to the content of the SAR.  But the reporter was not in a position to provide follow up information or further details to the NCA where ordinary client confidentiality prevented that.  So once the report had been submitted the reporter was effectively stopped from providing further details.  The provisions in the Act remove any obstacle to the supply of further information (except in respect of information covered by legal privilege).

Another change, introduced by s11 of the Act, facilitates the exchange of information about suspicious activities between different businesses within the ‘regulated sector’ so that, where appropriate, they can co-ordinate their reports and actions in relation to those suspicions.

Customers of banks in particular may be concerned by further provisions, inserted by s10 of the Act, allowing the ‘moratorium period’ (during which, for example, a bank account may be frozen) to be extended by up to six months longer than was previously permitted.

Under previous legislation a bank could freeze a customer’s account pending consent from the NCA initially for a period of seven working days and then for an additional period of no longer than 31 calendar days.  This 31 day period is known as the ‘moratorium period’.  Under the new provisions the NCA (or other appropriate investigator such as the police or HMRC) can apply to the Crown Court for the moratorium period in respect of a particular SAR to be extended.  Initially the Crown Court could grant an extension of (up to) 31 days and the court would have power, upon further applications by the investigator, to grant further (up to) 31 day extensions – up to a maximum extension of 186 days from the end of the original moratorium period.  Extensions could be granted where the Court is satisfied that it is necessary and reasonable, and where an investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously.  The Court may exclude from any part of its hearings concerning extending the ‘moratorium period’ the ‘interested person’ (the holder of a frozen bank account for example) and his legal representatives.

It follows that a customer’s bank account could be frozen for more than seven months without the customer having an opportunity to hear the evidence upon which the suspicion of money laundering was based and to effectively challenge that evidence or provide appropriate explanations.  Such a long period of account freezing could have very serious implications for the customer.

These provisions of the Act add new sections to Part 7 PoCA 2002.

[UPDATE: These provisions came into force on 31 October 2017.]

 

Tidying up investigation powers

The Act also contains various provisions to tidy up the PoCA 2002 provisions relating to powers of investigation.

In particular amendments made by s7 allow ‘disclosure orders’ under s357 PoCA 2002 to be obtained in connection with money laundering investigations and, by s33, the investigation powers of Part 8 PoCA 2002 become available for revisits under s22 PoCA 2002 to a defendant’s available amount in relation to an existing confiscation order.

Section 32 of the Act ensures that confiscation orders which are discharged under s24 or s25 PoCA 2002 may still be subject to reconsideration under s21 or s22 PoCA 2002.

The Act also extends PoCA 2002 enforcement and investigation powers more coherently to HMRC, the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Conduct Authority and immigration officers.

[UPDATE: Some of these provisions have now come into force.]

 

Conclusion

The Criminal Finances Act 2017 makes significant changes to a variety of PoCA 2002 provisions with corresponding amendments to the law relating to terrorist property.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article deals with the Criminal Finances Act 2017 so far as it applies in England and Wales.  At the time of writing not all of the operative provisions of the Act had been brought into force.   Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

Criminal Finances Bill proposed

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

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

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

The bill will:

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

 

New offence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suspicious Activity Reports

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

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

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

 

Recovering criminal assets

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

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

Section 330 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

ER 1 sigSection 330 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 requires persons working in the ‘regulated sector’ to report their suspicions of money laundering by others, subject to certain exceptions.

The ‘regulated sector’ is defined by Schedule 9 PoCA 2002, as amended.  The most significant amendment to Schedule 9 was made by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Business in the Regulated Sector & Supervisory Authorities) Order 2007 which entirely replaced Parts 1 & 2 of the originally enacted schedule.  There have been a number of more minor amendments to the extent of the ‘regulated sector’ subsequently.

But s330 itself has been subject to important amendments on a number of occasions, not only has the original text been amended but six entirely new subsections have been added.  In consequence there is not, as far as I am aware, an up to date copy of s330 freely available on the internet.

I set out below my understanding of the current wording of s330 at the time of writing (November 2015).

 

Section 330 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002

Failure to disclose: regulated sector

(1)     A person commits an offence if the conditions in subsections (2) to (4) are satisfied.

(2)     The first condition is that he –

    • (a) knows or suspects, or
    • (b) has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting,

that another person is engaged in money laundering.

(3)     The second condition is that the information or other matter –

    • (a) on which his knowledge or suspicion is based, or
    • (b) which gives reasonable grounds for such knowledge or suspicion,

came to him in the course of a business in the regulated sector.

(3A)  The third condition is –

    • (a) that he can identify the other person mentioned in subsection (2) or the whereabouts of any of the laundered property, or
    • (b) that he believes, or it is reasonable to expect him to believe, that the information or other matter mentioned in subsection (3) will or may assist in identifying that other person or the whereabouts of any of the laundered property.

(4)     The fourth condition is that he does not make the required disclosure to –

    • (a) a nominated officer, or
    • (b) a person authorised for the purposes of the Part by the Director General of the National Crime Agency,

as soon as is practicable after the information or other matter mentioned in subsection (3) comes to him.

(5)     The required disclosure is a disclosure of –

    • (a) the identity of the other person mentioned in subsection (2), if he knows it,
    • (b) the whereabouts of the laundered property, so far as he knows it, and
    • (c) the information or other matter mentioned in subsection (3).

(5A)   The laundered property is the property forming the subject-matter of the money laundering that he knows or suspects, or has reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting, that other person to be engaged in.

(6)     But he does not commit an offence under this section if –

    • (a) he has a reasonable excuse for not making the required disclosure,
    • (b) he is a professional legal adviser or relevant professional adviser and –
      • (i) if he knows either of the things mentioned in subsection (5)(a) and (b), he knows the thing because of information or other matter that came to him in privileged circumstances, or
      • (ii) the information or other matter mentioned in subsection (3) came to him in privileged circumstances, or
    • (c) subsection (7) or (7B) applies to him.

(7)     This subsection applies to a person if –

    • (a) he does not know or suspect that another person is engaged in money laundering, and
    • (b) he has not been provided by his employer with such training as is specified by the Secretary of State by order for the purposes of this section.

(7A)    Nor does a person commit an offence under this section if –

    • (a) he knows, or believes on reasonable grounds, that money laundering is occurring in a particular country or territory outside the United Kingdom, and
    • (b) the money laundering –
      • (i) is not unlawful under the criminal law applying in that country or territory, and
      • (ii) is not of a description prescribed in an order made by the Secretary of State.

(7B)   This subsection applies to a person if –

    • (a) he is employed by, or is in partnership with, a professional legal adviser or a relevant professional adviser to provide the adviser with assistance or support,
    • (b) the information or other matter mentioned in subsection (3) comes to the person in connection with the provision of such assistance or support, and
    • (c) the information or other matter came to the adviser in privileged circumstances.

(8)     In deciding whether a person committed an offence under this section the court must consider whether he followed any relevant guidance which was at the time concerned –

    • (a) issued by a supervisory authority or other appropriate body,
    • (b) approved by the Treasury, and
    • (c) published in a manner it approved as appropriate in its opinion to bring the guidance to the attention of persons likely to be affected by it.

(9)     A disclosure to a nominated officer is a disclosure which –

    • (a) is made to a person nominated by the alleged offender’s employer to receive disclosures under this section, and
    • (b) is made in the course of the alleged offender’s employment.

(9A)   But a disclosure which satisfies paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (9) is not to be taken as a disclosure to a nominated officer if the person making the disclosure –

    • (a) is a professional legal adviser or relevant professional adviser,
    • (b) makes it for the purpose of obtaining advice about making a disclosure under this section, and
    • (c) does not intend it to be a disclosure under this section.

(10)   Information or other matter comes to a professional legal adviser or relevant professional adviser in privileged circumstances if it is communicated or given to him –

    • (a) by (or by a representative of) a client of his in connection with the giving by the adviser of legal advice to the client,
    • (b) by (or by a representative of) a person seeking legal advice from the adviser, or
    • (c) by a person in connection with legal proceedings or contemplated legal proceedings.

(11)   But subsection (10) does not apply to information or other matter which is communicated or given with the intention of furthering a criminal purpose.

(12)   Schedule 9 has effect for the purpose of determining what is –

    • (a) a business in the regulated sector;
    • (b) a supervisory authority.

(13)   An appropriate body is any body which regulates or is representative of any trade, profession, business or employment carried on by the alleged offender.

(14)   A relevant professional adviser is an accountant, auditor or tax adviser who is a member of a professional body which is established for accountants, auditors or tax advisers (as the case may be) and which makes provision for –

    • (a) testing the competence of those seeking admission to membership of such a body as a condition for such admission; and
    • (b) imposing and maintaining professional and ethical standards for its members, as well as imposing sanctions for non-compliance with those standards.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to the provisions of Section 330 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales.  There are a number of issues which could be relevant to obligations or proceedings under these provisions in particular circumstances which it is not possible to deal with in an article such as this.  Appropriate professional or legal advice should be sought in each individual case.)

UK Supreme Court rules on money laundering arrangements

Supreme Court logoThe UK Supreme Court recently ruled on the law relating to prosecutions for entering into, or becoming concerned in, an arrangement which facilitates the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property for, or on behalf of, another person – contrary to s328 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The case arose as a result of the actions of a fraudster, referred to as ‘B’.

Shortly before commencing his fraud the defendant, referred to as ‘H’, opened two bank accounts and handed control of them to ‘B’ who then used them in connection with his frauds.  ‘B’ conned unsuspecting members of the public into making payments into these bank accounts (for services which in truth were non-existent).

The prosecution case was that ‘H’ must have known or at least suspected that ‘B’ had some criminal purpose even if he was not aware of the details of the con.  ‘B’ was convicted of fraud.  ‘H’ was charged with becoming concerned in an arrangement contrary to s328 PoCA 2002.

The Supreme Court was required to consider whether, in the circumstances alleged, ‘H’ could be guilty of a s328 offence – R v GH [2015] UKSC 24 (22 April 2015).

The Supreme Court broke the issue down into four key questions.  In addressing those questions it overturned some decisions of the courts below.

 

1  Must the property be ‘criminal property’ before the arrangement operates on it?

Counsel for the prosecution submitted to the Supreme Court that the same conduct could both cause property to become criminal and simultaneously constitute the offence charged under s328.  He made the same submission in relation to sections 327 and 329, correctly recognising that the three sections have to be construed coherently.

So, he submitted, a thief who steals “legitimate” property is necessarily at the same time guilty of “acquiring criminal property” contrary to s329.

The Supreme Court rejected that view, holding that it failed to recognise the necessary distinction between a person who acquires criminal property and one who acquires legitimate property by a criminal act or for a criminal purpose.

Sections 327, 328 and 329 are aptly described as “parasitic” offences because they are predicated on the commission of another offence which has yielded proceeds which then become the subject of a money laundering offence.

The Supreme Court therefore approved the decision of the Court of Appeal in an earlier case R v Geary [2010] EWCA Crim 1925 that to say that s328 extends to property which was originally legitimate but became criminal only as a result of carrying out the arrangement is to stretch the language of the section beyond its proper limits.  I have discussed the Geary case more fully in an earlier article on this blog.

However, for example, a thief who steals legitimate property might then commit a s329 money laundering offence by his possession or use of that property after his acquisition of it.

In practice such a thief should normally face a charge of theft rather than one of money laundering.  But the legal point that he may also be guilty of a money laundering offence is an important one because of the obligation on banks & others in the ‘regulated sector’ to report suspicions of money laundering under s330.

 

2  Must the ‘criminal property’ exist before the defendant joins the arrangement?

The Supreme Court agreed with the decision of the Court of Appeal in holding that it does not matter whether criminal property existed when the arrangement was first hatched.  What matters is that the property should be criminal property at a time when the arrangement operates on it.

It should be noted that the Supreme Court did not hold it to be necessary that the property should be criminal property at the time when the arrangement commences to operate on it.

The offence is complete when the arrangement becomes one which facilitates the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property for, or on behalf of, another person and the defendant knows or suspects this to be the case.

 

3  Were the monies ‘criminal property’ before being paid into the defendant’s bank account?

Counsel for the prosecution made a somewhat technical submission to the Supreme Court that the monies banked were criminal property at the time of payment because they represented a chose in action, namely the obligation of the purchasers of the supposed services to pay for them.

The Supreme Court were unimpressed by this submission, holding that there was a stark absence of material before the court to substantiate a case of this nature.

However the court did not close the door on such an argument being successfully presented in a future case.

 

4  Was the actus reus of the offence committed on the facts of the case?

Looking at the substance of the matter, the money paid by the victims into the accounts was lawful money at the moment at which it was paid into those accounts.  It was therefore not a case of the account holder acquiring criminal property from the victims.

But by the arrangement the respondent also facilitated the retention, use and control of the money by or on behalf of ‘B’.  Did the arrangement regarding the facilitation of the retention, use and control of the money fall foul of s328 on the basis that it was criminal property at that stage, since it was the proceeds of a fraud perpetrated on the victims?

In this case the character of the money did change on being paid into the defendant’s accounts.  It was lawful property in the hands of the victims at the moment when they paid it into the defendant’s accounts.  But it then became criminal property in the hands of ‘B’, not by reason of the arrangement made between ‘B’ and the defendant, but by reason of the fact that it was obtained through fraud perpetrated by ‘B’ on the victims.

There was a crucial difference therefore between this case and the situation in Geary (in which the arrangement itself had been the reason that the property in question became criminal property).

The Supreme Court (overturning the decision of the Court of Appeal) held that there was no artificiality in recognising that change in character of the money, and that it would be appropriate to regard the defendant as entering into or becoming concerned in an arrangement to retain criminal property for the benefit of another.

It was the retention, use & control of the monies after they had been paid into the bank accounts as the result of a fraud, under the bank account arrangement made earlier between ‘B’ & ‘H’, which could properly form the basis of a conviction of ‘H’ under s328.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to prosecutions under the provisions of Part 7 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 trial 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.)

Getting technical help on proceeds of crime issues

 

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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.

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David

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OFT penalises estate agents under MLR 2007

Estate agents boards copyright David Winch 2014In one of its last acts the Office of Fair Trading has penalised three firms of estate agents for failures to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations 2007.

Estate agents based in the UK dealing with the sale or purchase of land or property fall within the ‘regulated sector’ for the purposes of MLR 2007 and, in the course of that work, are obliged to comply with MLR requirements.

 

What went wrong?

The OFT penalised Hastings International UK Ltd (an estate agent in south London) £47,966; Jackson Grundy Ltd (Northampton) £169,652; and Jeffrey Ross Ltd (Cardiff) £29,000.

The failures in all three cases were described by the OFT as significant and widespread and included failure to:

  • Apply adequate customer due diligence measures when carrying out estate agency work;
  • Conduct ongoing monitoring of business relationships;
  • Establish and maintain appropriate policies and procedures on adequate record-keeping, internal controls or risk assessments; and
  • Train relevant employees in how to recognise and deal with transactions and other activities which may be related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

The MLR 2007 provide civil penalties for such failures.

These penalties will provide a wake up call to any other estate agents who are not properly implementing the anti-money laundering requirements.  These penalties may be subject to appeal.

 

Goodbye OFT, hello HMRC

From 1 April 2014 the Office of Fair Trading has ceased to exist.  Its responsibilities in relation to monitoring estate agents’ compliance with MLR 2007 have been passed to HM Revenue & Customs.  HMRC already monitor the MLR compliance of certain other types of business including ‘money service businesses’, ‘high value dealers’ and those accountants who are not members of another supervisory body.

David

Appealing out of time after a change of law

When the law changes can an appeal be made to the Court of Appeal outside the normal time limits?

Normally an appeal against a decision of the Crown Court in England and Wales has to be submitted within 28 days of the decision. But the Court of Appeal can give leave for an appeal to be heard where the deadline has been missed – and has done so in some cases where the deadline has been missed by months or even years.

Where a defendant has suffered a decision which, though it appeared to be well founded at the time it was made, now appears to be incorrect in the light of subsequent case law, what is the position regarding the submission of an appeal out of time?

This is an issue which arises from time to time – and may be particularly topical following the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51.

 

The general rule

The general rule is that the Court of Appeal will not allow an appeal to be made out of time if the only reason for the appeal is that subsequent cases have shown the previous perception of the legal position was mistaken.

This was set out many years ago in the case of R v Mitchell [1977] 65 CAR 185 when it was said that, “It should be clearly understood, and this court wants to make it even more abundantly clear, that the fact there has been an apparent change in the law or, to put it more precisely, the previous misconceptions about the meaning of a statute have been put right, does not afford a proper ground for allowing an extension of time in which to appeal against conviction”.

That rule has been reiterated many times since.  See, for example, the comment, “alarming consequences would flow from permitting the general re-opening of old cases on the ground that a decision of a court of authority had removed a widely held misconception as to the prior state of the law” from the case of Ramsden [1972] Crim LR 547 and repeated, with approval, in the case of R v Ramzan & Others [2006] EWCA Crim 197 at paragraph [30].

In the case of R v Cottrell [2007] EWCA Crim 2016 it was said, at paragraph [42], “there is a continuing public imperative that so far as possible there should be finality and certainty in the administration of criminal justice.  In reality, society can only operate on the basis that the courts administering the criminal justice system apply the law as it is.  The law as it may later be declared or perceived to be is irrelevant”.

But there have been exceptions made to the general rule.

 

Substantial injustice

It does appear to be the case that where the Court of Appeal can be satisfied that a defendant has suffered a substantial injustice then it can be persuaded to hear an appeal out of time. In the case of Hawkins [1997] 1 Cr.App.R 234 the Court of Appeal commented that “the practice of the Court has in the past, in this and comparable situations, been to eschew undue technicality and ask whether any substantial injustice has been done”.
So, for example, where a defendant has been convicted of an offence of which, under a new understanding of the law, he could not now be found guilty – but the evidence shows that he must have been guilty of another similar offence (of which he had not been charged), then the Court of Appeal will generally not allow an appeal to be heard out of time. This was the position of a Mr Malik who had been convicted of conspiracy to launder money prior to the ruling in R v Saik [2006] UKHL 18 (which changed the law regarding the conspiracy offence where there was merely a suspicion that monies were proceeds of crime). The Court of Appeal considered that there was ample evidence of the substantive offence of money laundering in Mr Malik’s case and refused him leave to appeal his conviction out of time.

In R v Charles [2001] EWCA Crim 1755 the Court of Appeal said, at paragraph [41], “In practice judges and courts are probably not as reluctant to grant extensions of time as the authorities may suggest. It has been the experience of the members of this Court that consideration will usually be given to the merits before declining to grant an extension of time. Both in Jones (No. 2) and Asraf, the merits were considered notwithstanding the absence of any proper explanation for the delay. There are some cases, such as those where the applicant wishes to rely on fresh evidence unavailable at trial, where the extension of time will be readily granted. There are cases such as those envisaged in Hawkins where it will not be”.

 

Failure to address a key issue

Perhaps slightly different are cases where, because the law was not properly understood at the time, a key issue in the proceedings was not recognised and addressed in the Crown Court. This is illustrated by the case of Bell & Others v R [2011] EWCA Crim 6.

Mr Bell was subject to a confiscation order made in 2007 after he had been convicted of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of the duty chargeable on cigarettes contrary to section 170(2)(a) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. The confiscation order was based on the amount of duty evaded when the cigarettes in question had been smuggled into the UK. But in fact it does not follow that a person committing this offence is himself liable for the duty and thus has ‘obtained’ a pecuniary advantage which would form the basis for a confiscation order. That had not been appreciated by the Crown Court at the time the confiscation order was made. In consequence the Crown Court had not addressed the question of whether Mr Bell was himself liable for the evaded duty and evidence relevant to that issue had not been obtained.

Subsequently the Court of Appeal had decided the case of White & Others v The Crown [2010] EWCA Crim 978 which highlighted this issue. Mr Bell then lodged an appeal against the confiscation order made against him three years earlier.

Before the Court of Appeal it was accepted that, in fact, Mr Bell had not been personally liable for the evaded duty. The Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the confiscation order out of time because “it would be a grave injustice not to grant leave”.

In place of a benefit of £157,775 based on the evaded duty, Mr Bell was made subject to a confiscation order of just £950 based on the payment he had received for his role in the smuggling offence.

 

The impact of R v Waya

We have yet to see whether the Court of Appeal will grant leave to appeal confiscation orders out of time following the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51.

The Waya case decided two points of principle: (1) confiscation orders should not be ‘disproportionate’ because that would infringe Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and (2) a mortgage applicant does not ‘obtain’ a mortgage advance (for confiscation purposes) if that advance is simply paid to a solicitor, acting on behalf of both the applicant and the lender, and then remitted to the vendor of the property being purchased (or his solicitor) – because the mortgage applicant does not at any stage gain ‘control’ of the monies advanced.
It may be that defendants who have been subject to a confiscation order which they consider is more severe than the Crown Court would have made had the decision in Waya been available at the time will now seek to appeal their orders. It will be very interesting to see how such appeals are dealt with by the Court of Appeal.

David

EDIT: A further article on the subject updates the position: Appealing a confiscation order out of time.

(Note: This article applies to confiscation orders 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 order 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.)