September 2, 2014 at 16:48

Chris Blackhurst: Britain may finally get tough on white-collar crime

Chris Blackhurst: Britain may finally get tough on white-collar crime

At last, the UK is getting serious about white-collar crime.

That, at least, is the message to be taken away from a series of speeches by leading officials at this week’s Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime.

It seems that the public outcry over the banking crisis and the lack of arrests, coupled with concerns over terrorism and its funding, have finally convinced those in charge that something has to be done. After years of lagging behind other countries, notably the US, where the sight of a top banker or corporate chieftain being led off in chains is a frequent occurrence, the UK is catching up.

There is still some way to go. As David Green, head of the Serious Fraud Office, made clear, the obstacles thrown at his staff are many and varied.

We still have a tendency to view our blue-chip companies as whiter than white. Likewise, we struggle in the UK with the notion of some economic crimes as even having victims.

If money is taken directly out of our bank account we jump up and down. But if a group of traders allegedly conspire to rig a key interest rate we’re less outraged.

In fact, the latter hurts us — somebody bears a loss from their dealings and that deficit eventually comes back to the charges imposed upon us, or borrowing is made more expensive than it ought to be.

Now in its 32nd year, the Cambridge conference has lived through several economic cycles and has witnessed the exposure of many spectacular crimes, ranging from the fraud of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.

This year, though, the mood is more determined than ever, that countries must come together and unite to tackle white-collar criminals and money laundering.

Last night, Alexander Lebedev, part owner of the Evening Standard, called for the establishment of a global, anti-corruption police force along the lines of Interpol. It was the only way, he said, of attacking the cash pouring into international terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda and IS.

One key signal from the conference is that just as guilty as the criminals themselves are the ranks of advisers who assist them — and impede any threatened prosecutions. Tax havens, too, have been singled out for opprobrium.

Of course, there’s been plenty of tough talking before and little  has changed. It’s up to those in power to now put some meat on the rhetoric.

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