New figures imply 0.5% chance UK's NCA will act on reports of suspected corruption, says expert

Out-Law News | 04 Jun 2014 | 9:57 am | 2 min. read

A more joined-up approach to the investigation of fraud and corruption offences is needed, an expert has said, after the publication of new figures suggesting that only 0.5% of reports of suspicious activity received by the UK's new National Crime Agency (NCA) were taken forward.

Research published this week by The Times newspaper showed that the number of 'intelligence packages' created from reports of overseas corruption by the NCA fell by 67% to just 82 last year (registration required). Although the NCA does not keep track of the number of reports of international corruption it receives, on which it bases these intelligence packs, its predecessor the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) examined an average of 10,600 reports in the three years to 2012.

White collar crime expert Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the difference was "staggering". Under UK bribery and corruption laws, companies that suspect irregularities from their transactions overseas must report these suspicious to the NCA, which took over responsibility for national and international serious and organised crime last year. The NCA then uses these reports to create intelligence packages for other agencies, including the City of London Police and Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

"Concerns and awareness of corruption and bribery since 2011 have exploded, not least because of the Bribery Act, but against this backdrop these numbers show that the action being taken has plummeted," Vitou told The Times. "This raises more questions than answers, and the most obvious answer is that the people doing the work don't have the resources to adequately investigate or process these reports."

Writing on his website thebriberyact.com, Vitou said that a "more joined-up approach among UK law enforcement" was needed to ensure that powers given to prosecutors under a raft of recent legislation could be used.

"Over recent years, the prosecutor's toolkit has been filled with a variety of tools such as anti-money laundering laws and the Bribery Act to enable prosecutors to investigate and prosecute corporate crime," he said. "However, against a backdrop of a desire to enhance intelligence functions, and a desire to target wrongdoing as it happens, not just historical allegations, a more joined-up approach among UK law enforcement is required."

"Failing which, serious questions should be asked about whether intelligence which is being gathered is simply being ignored," he said.

Companies suspicious of corrupt transactions are subject to a number of reporting regimes. Financial services firms, accountants, lawyers and others that are subject to the UK Money Laundering Regulations are required to take proactive steps to identify any activity that they suspect may be linked to money laundering and to report such activity to the NCA.

Firms that are not subject to these regulations may still be caught by the Proceeds of Crime Act, which requires companies to file suspicious activity reports in certain circumstances. These include where they anticipate entering into or becoming involved with an arrangement which they know or suspect facilitates the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person. Vitou said that this suspicion threshold was "very low", and would cover revenue from a contract "tainted by bribery".