A new corporate offence targeting businesses that fail to prevent fraud or money laundering has been proposed in a package of measures against international corruption announced today.
The Ministry of Justice will consult this summer on proposals to extend the scope of the ‘failing to prevent’ criminal offence beyond bribery and tax evasion to other economic crimes.
The consultation will assess whether the changes could allow courts to prosecute corporate economic crime more effectively.
Justice minister Dominic Raab (pictured) said: ‘The government is finding new ways to tackle economic crime and we are taking a rigorous and robust approach to corporations that fail to prevent bribery or allow the tax evasion on their behalf.
‘We now want to carefully consider whether the evidence justifies any further extension of this model to other areas of economic crime.’
The plans come amid a raft of new proposals announced by the government as the UK’s anti-corruption summit begins.
These include forcing foreign companies who buy property in the UK to disclose the identity of their owners.
Under the proposals any foreign company wishing to buy property in the UK will first have to join a new public register of beneficial ownership.
Companies that already own UK property or bid for central government contracts will also have to comply.
Downing Street said the register ‘will mean corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London’s property market, and will not benefit from our public funds’.
It said foreign companies owned about 100,000 properties in England and Wales, with more than 44,000 of these in London.
Jason Collins, head of tax at international firm Pinsent Masons, warned that the measure may be limited in its impact as companies held by trusts may only need to note the trustee on the register, leaving the ultimate beneficiaries undisclosed.
He said: 'Those with something to hide will probably find ways to beat the system anyway – there do not seem to be many ideas on how resources will be deployed to make sure the information on the registers is accurate.'
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: ‘While in principle we support further legislative measures to get tougher on financial crime, it’s equally important to ensure the Serious Fraud Office is armed with the resources it requires to pursue complicated cases against large financial services companies.’
The government is also planning on making public procurement more visible, which will mean that the process of awarding public sector contracts will be available from October this year. High Speed 2 will pilot the scheme.
The government will also create a new Anti-Corruption Innovation Hub with countries including France, Mexico, Switzerland, Afghanistan and Indonesia to connect social innovators, technology experts and data scientists with law enforcement and civil society to share techniques in tackling corruption.
The Law Society anti-money laundering and financial crime conference will be held in London in November. For more information, please click here.