Turning The Tide on Corporate Fraud
TUESDAY 27th SEPTEMBER, 2022
Fraud is now the UK’s most commonly-experienced crime.
An already lucrative and low-risk source of ill-gotten gains, it exploded during the pandemic, from scam artists robbing online shoppers to fake companies ripping off the Treasury’s support schemes. In the face of this escalating crisis, the response from the government has been frankly pathetic: no sense of prioritisation; no serious new strategy; and nothing like the required resources.
The government cannot even provide an official estimate of the total amount of fraud in the UK, or say how much of it is being perpetrated from overseas, with each minister telling us that it was someone else’s job to answer those questions. The Royal United Services Institute rightly concluded last year that there was a “responsibility vacuum” on the issue, with “fraud continuing to be everybody’s problem but nobody’s priority”.
No wonder the government’s own counter-fraud minister, Lord Agnew, resigned in January, criticising the “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” he saw from his colleagues on the issue, and saying the Treasury in particular had “no knowledge, or little interest in, the consequences of fraud to our economy or society”. And what has the new Prime Minister’s response been? To appoint as Chancellor a man who said in February that fraud was not a “crime that people experience in their day-to-day lives”.
It is time for real change. We need a government that will get a grip on this epidemic of economic crime, and that must start at the top by tackling corporate fraud, where the most sophisticated methods are used to steal the largest sums. In 2013, in my first spell as Shadow Attorney General, I produced a comprehensive blueprint on how to tackle this problem, including wholesale reform of our laws on corporate criminal liability.
But the government refused to act. In the nine years since that paper, the Serious Fraud Office has convicted just seven companies. Mired in scandal, after a series of botched prosecutions, the SFO now routinely seeks to negotiate settlements with corporate
fraudsters instead of prosecuting them, waving the white flag to white collar crime.
But as we set out in this new paper, it does not have to be this way. Many of the conclusions are similar to those I reached in 2013, but the scale and complexity of the problem is far greater, and the need for action more urgent than ever if we are to avoid losing another decade in the battle against corporate fraud.
The Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Shadow Attorney General