Out-Law News 2 min. read

UK government sets out "joined up and collaborative" approach to tackling corporate crime

A multi-agency, specialist team to tackle bribery will be established within the new National Crime Agency (NCA) as part of the UK government's first anti-corruption strategy, the government has announced.

The strategy document, which was published last week after a six-month review of the roles of the various UK bodies involved in the investigation and prosecution of economic crimes, set out over 60 recommendations to be taken forward by the government and its partners. These also include the development of a new 'toolkit' of interventions to be used in international corruption cases; the creation of a new offence of "police corruption"; and the undertaking of a national risk assessment on money laundering and terrorist financing.

Anti-corruption expert Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, welcomed the publication of the long-awaited document. However, he noted that it did not cover how the UK government would fund its plans.

"The plan is extensive and detailed and no one can argue against one of the central themes of the report: namely, that law enforcement needs to be more joined up when it comes to fighting corruption," he said. "However, the multi-million dollar question is: will there be new funding for those fighting corruption?"

First reported in the Financial Times and confirmed by then-solicitor general Oliver Heald at the end of June, the cross-departmental anti-corruption review considered the roles of the NCA. Serious Fraud Office (SFO), City of London Police, financial regulators and the Metropolitan Police's overseas anti-corruption unit. The NCA, which comes under Home Office management, took over responsibility for national and international serious and organised crime last year.

The final strategy document did not include funding arrangements or a wider review of the role of the SFO, which is the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting the most serious cases of economic crime. According to the report, the SFO will continue to work closely with the NCA's new "central bribery and corruption unit", which should be established by April 2015. This new unit will bring together NCA resources with those of specialist units, currently operating within Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police, which deal with tracing, seizing and recovering illicit financial flows into the UK and bribery by UK companies or individuals in developing countries.

The NCA, working with its partner agencies, will also implement a programme to improve the recruitment and retention of the specialists needed for these investigations including financial investigators, forensic accountants and experts in digital forensics, according to the report. It will also begin to produce regular reports on the use of bribery and corruption by organised crime and regular alerts on bribery and corruption threats; both recommendations it is due to implement immediately.

According to the report, the Home Office and law enforcement agencies will work together to develop a single reporting mechanism to be used for allegations of corruption. This could be up and running as early as July 2015. The Home Office will also promote guidance on managing the threat to organisations vulnerable to targeting by economic crime from corrupt 'insiders', while the Cabinet office will lead on transposition of the new modernised European Public Procurement Directives and promote counter-corruption and fraud training across the public sector.

Additionally, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is to consider the case for creation of a new criminal offence of corporate failure to prevent economic crime, similar to the regime created under the 2010 Bribery Act for bribery offences. It is expected to complete this work by June 2015, according to the report. Under the Bribery Act, commercial organisations can be liable for acts of bribery committed on their behalf unless they can show that they had adequate procedures in place to prevent these acts occurring.

Delivery of the recommendations and commitments set out in the strategy will be overseen by an inter-ministerial group chaired by business minister Matthew Hancock and Karen Bradley, the minister for organised crime. Bradley said that the contents of the report would, if implemented, "bring greater coordination and coherence to existing activity and set a clear course for the future work of government and law enforcement agencies".

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