Southwark Crown Court is a designated centre for many of the UK’s serious fraud and white-collar crime jury trials. It is a drab building in a stunning location. There’s a spectacular view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London over the river, obscured only by HMS Belfast, a WWII cruiser permanently moored as a museum and which, last Christmas, flew the Canadian flag in tribute to the participation of the Royal Canadian Navy in the Battle of North Cape. Hundreds of Canadian sailors served on British ships in the north, including eighty on the Belfast.
As the Maple Leaf flew, I acted for the MD of Skansen Interiors Ltd, a London based fit-out and refurbishment contractor, in a bribery case which concluded last April. The company itself and two of its directors faced charges under the Bribery Act 2010 (“UKBA”), relating to making improper payments in order to secure contracts for two City of London office refurbishments worth about £6m.
The case was a legal first in the UK in that the company, despite having carried out an internal investigation and self-reported to the UK National Crime Agency, then faced a Section 7 UKBA prosecution before a jury in the Crown Court. Section 7 has an unusually wide reach. A company itself is guilty of a criminal offence where a person associated with it bribed another, even where management might be completely unaware of the bribe. It is a rare form of corporate criminal strict liability, subject to a defence where the company can prove, on a balance of probabilities, that it had in place adequate procedures to prevent such conduct. Of course, the legislation is aimed at compelling a change in corporate culture when it comes to effective anti-bribery measures. Quite apart from the interesting questions the case posed as to what may amount to “adequate procedures” and why it was that an entirely co-operative company was not offered a UK Deferred Prosecution Agreement, the focus upon the Section 7 requirements was a clear reminder of how even a non-UK corporate could well end up in a UK criminal dock.
We are beginning to see the legal enforcement fallout from the now infamous Panama Papers. Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) concerted efforts to find undeclared offshore money and assets is moving into full gear. In addition to pursuing typical civil audits, the CRA is now executing search warrants and launching criminal investigations for tax evasion.
The CRA is actively gathering information from domestic and international sources to identify and charge offenders criminally. Since 2015, the Canadian government has required domestic financial institutions to report to the CRA all international electronic fund transfers of $10,000 or more. In addition, as of March 2016 the CRA has analyzed over 41,000 transactions worth over $12 billion dollars, involving four jurisdictions and particular financial institutions of concern, and has initiated risk assessments on 1,300 individuals named in the Panama Papers. This has resulted in approximately 122 CRA audits to date and counting. However, it is not just taxpayers who are subject to the CRA’s scrutiny and who may be criminally charged. The CRA is also investigating the enablers and advisors, including the lawyers and accountants, who facilitated the hiding of taxpayer money and assets offshore.
This week, White Collar Post features a guest post from internationally known compliance and anti-corruption expert Marc Y. Tassé.
While the leaks continue from the “Panama Papers”, continuing to make headlines around the world, and as the related scandals intensify, there have been numerous articles written on the whole topic. My following comments and remarks take under consideration and outline some of those and my own comments.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained millions of documents showing heads of state, criminals and celebrities using secret hideaways in tax havens.
- Files reveal the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and public officials from around the world
- Current and former world leaders in the data include the prime minister of Iceland, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia
- More than 214,000 offshore entities appear in the leak, connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories
- Major banks have driven the creation of hard-to-trace companies in offshore havens
Offshore banking is not in itself illegal, and those named in the “Panama Papers” should not automatically be presumed to have done anything wrong, but history has shown that secrecy attracts those with something to hide. The offshore banking system is being abused for illicit purposes such as tax evasion and money laundering resulting from corruption.
The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), the federal agency responsible for the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and terrorist financing, has, for the first time, imposed an administrative monetary penalty on a Canadian bank. The penalty of more than $1.1-million comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Canadian financial institutions and financial transactional crime as a result of the publication of the Panama Papers.