Does the Governments anti-corruption strategy go far enough or is it a missed opportunity?
In recent years, the UK government has made some important strides in its attempts to fight corruption.
The Bribery Act 2010 and the Criminal Finances Act 2017 were important pieces of legislation that focused on economic crime. The UK was also the first G20 nation to create a public register of domestic company beneficial ownership, and the first G7 country to undergo an IMF fiscal transparency evaluation.
To enhance the UK’s ability to tackle corruption the Government has recently announced plans for a new national economic crime center (NECC) with the power to instruct the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to investigate the worst cases of fraud, money laundering and corruption. The NECC will be situated within the National Crime Agency (NCA) and will oversee the national police response to financial crime with greater intelligence and analytical capabilities. The move is part of a 5-year anti-corruption strategy targeting greater transparency over who owns and controls businesses.
The Governments new anti-corruption strategy sets out a number of priorities that include reducing the insider threat in high-risk domestic sectors, strengthening the integrity of the UK as a centre of global finance and promoting integrity across the public and private sectors.
The government will have had a clear eye on Brexit when creating its new strategy. A body that has a greater ability to effectively respond to economic crime will, in theory, enhance the UK’s reputation as a global financial hub and encourage new trading relationships.
So does the Strategy go far enough?
Despite those who will argue that UK is one of the safest locations across the globe to do business, up to 90 billions of pounds continues to be laundered throughout the UK each year. Regardless of the SFO’s recent results, which include Deferred Prosecution Agreements that total some £640 million in financial penalties (£500 million alone for Rolls-Royce), the UK is still seen by many as a haven for dirty money.
The powers granted by the Government to the NECC are not new powers. The NCA already has the power to task the SFO to assist it in undertaking investigations. This would hardly suggest a new innovative, far-reaching strategy. The Government also appear to have missed an opportunity of extending corporate criminal liability beyond bribery and tax evasion, which would have made it easier to prosecute companies that have not done enough to prevent wrongdoing by their staff.
It is certainly questionable whether the creation of the NECC and the new strategy will have gone far enough to enhance the UK’s ability to tackle economic crimes. However, the Government remains committed to at least demonstrating that it is focusing its response to economic crime across both the public and private sectors.
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