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White collar crime prosecutions fall as offences rise

The number of white collar crime prosecutions in the UK fell by 12% between 2015 and 2016, despite a 4% increase in the number of reported offences.

Figures sourced by Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, show a trend of falling white collar crime prosecutions since 2011.

Pinsent Masons' corporate crime expert Barry Vitou said the decrease raised questions over the funding of enforcement bodies such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to pursue white collar criminals.

“More money and time needs to be spent ensuring regulators, agencies and police forces can deal with new threats effectively, and follow-up with any intelligence. There is clearly no shortage of leads,” said Vitou. “Government support and adequate funding is the lifeblood of any organisation fighting white collar crime.”

White collar crime prosecutions fell from 9,489 in 2015 to 8,304 last year. Since 2011, when there were 11,261 prosecutions, there has been a 26% drop in prosecutions.

Meanwhile the number of reported fraud offences increased 4% in the last year, to 641,539 in 2016 up from 617,112 in 2015. Since 2011 the number of reported crimes has risen nearly four-fold, from 142,991 offences.

White collar crime includes corruption, bribery, insider dealing, computer fraud, and false accounting practices. Online fraud was the most commonly-reported offence last year and according to a recent National Audit Office report, cost private sector businesses an estimated £144 billion last year and individuals £10bn.

Recent high-profile white collar crime prosecutions included a £497 million deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) agreed between Rolls-Royce and the SFO in January and a £129m DPA between Tesco and the SFO in March.

According to Pinsent Masons these high-profile cases came despite the downward trend in mainstream white collar crime enforcement, which is the task of the police and the National Crime Agency (NCA)

During the recent general election campaign the Conservative party manifesto pledged to merge the SFO with the NCA. Vitou, who has previously predicted that the election result put these plans into doubt, said there needed to be an end to uncertainty over the future of the SFO.

“It is also time, once and for all, to lay to rest the constant speculation about the future of the SFO and to guarantee its future as a stand-alone agency,” Vitou said.

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