At its recent Annual General Meeting, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption (www.anticorruptionappg.org) heard from DCI Jonathan Benton, Head of the Proceeds of Corruption Unit at the Metropolitan Police. He spoke about his team’s investigation of grand corruption and answered questions from the members on changes or measures that could be implemented to assist such investigations.
DCI Benton explained that one of the biggest obstacles he faced was the lack of transparency over beneficial ownership of companies. He noted the recent steps by the UK Government to introduce a public register of beneficial owners of companies. However, he noted that it would not apply to trusts. Another was international co-operation, which meant that although the UK could prosecute money laundering offences, the underlying corruption offences were often not prosecuted in the victim state. There are various reasons for this, including lack of political will, investigatory capacity or even corruption of the judicial and investigatory process.
Other areas that could be changed to assist the Unit’s work included an increased transparency over the finances of public officials taking the lead from countries such as Denmark where in fact all tax returns are published online. DCI Benton noted he had never dealt with a corruption case involving Denmark and perhaps not coincidentally Denmark was top of Transparency International’s recent CPI index.
There was also a discussion over the merits of reversing the burden of proof, once a prima facie case of corruption has been made out, to place the onus on a corrupt defendant to show that his or her assets derive from legitimate means. It was agreed that this would be helpful and similar to the law in Switzerland where the authorities are prosecuting a designated criminal organisation.
The final suggestion was to introduce a universal jurisdiction for corruption offences in a similar way to the treatment of homicide, which would allow the UK to prosecute corruption where the victim state is unable or unwilling to do so.
The notes of the AGM can be found here.