On 3 December 2020, Senior Associate Marie-Claire Amuah took part in the Thought Leadership Webinar “Hit them where it hurts: The problem of making offenders pay for their crimes”. There were three other panellists, including a barrister and a criminal investigator, and the webinar was hosted by the Outstanding Security Performance Awards (otherwise known as the OSPAs).
At the start of the webinar, each panellist introduced themselves and made an opening statement on the topic of recovering ill-gotten gains. Marie-Claire began by citing fraud statistics in the UK. For one, between September 2019 and September 2020, Action Fraud received over 17,000 reports of investment fraud, amounting to over £657 million in reported losses. Despite the high levels of fraud, there have been considerable budget cuts to law enforcement agencies and this kind of crime simply isn’t being prioritised. According to Marie-Claire, the combined result of this is that offenders aren’t being held to account. Panellist Aidan Larkin agreed with Marie-Claire’s assessment, noting that 98% of criminal proceeds remain in the hands of criminals.
Marie-Claire went on to describe the importance of private prosecutions in bridging this gap. This statutory right means that there is another avenue through which ill-gotten gains can be recovered, outside of state agencies that have faced budget cuts. Marie-Claire also emphasised the importance of private-public sector collaboration in the area of asset recovery. This would enable the UK to make the most of its legislative regime, as set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which has some of the world’s toughest laws on the recovery of ill-gotten gains.
Another panellist, Simon Davis, gave his views as a barrister practising in England and Wales. He noted that a major issue for asset recovery efforts is that the law is complex and difficult to apply. Moreover, asset recovery work is low paid and some practitioners prefer to avoid it. He argued for judges to be better trained and called for leadership in the realm of asset recovery, which is currently lacking. This sentiment was strongly echoed by the other panellists.
The panellists concluded that the crux of the problem is the lack of government leadership and the attendant lack of funding. They suggested there should be a national strategy to guide action in this area as there is vast potential to recover huge sums. If there is a lack of political will to do so, that is simply because there is a lack of understanding around how much money could be recovered if the existing legislation was properly applied.
A full recording of the webinar is available on the OSPAs website.