Not only has the coronavirus pandemic impacted UK society generally but It has also affected the operation of the criminal justice system and exposed new areas for the exercise of fraud at all levels.
Helen Holder of Kangs Solicitors considers a few aspects of this new landscape.
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Areas of Potential Crime | Fraud & Tax Investigations Solicitors
It is quite possible that criminal activity will come to light arising from, for example:
- the immediate and substantial demand for Personal Protective Equipment leading to efforts to sell counterfeit or non-existent goods.
- an increase in online fraud and targeted phishing impersonating, for example, the World Health Organisation.
- struggling businesses succumbing to the temptation to pursue unlawful creative accounting practices.
- furlough fraud as detailed in our previous article on 22nd June – please follow this link to read the article.
The Job Retention Scheme more commonly known as the furlough scheme was introduced in April 2020 allowing businesses to claim up to 80% of staff wages (capped at £2,500,00 per month) from 1st March 2020. The scheme is set to run until October 2020.
HMRC has publicly recognised that the furlough scheme is open to fraudulent claims. All businesses must keep records for five years and maintain compliance with the rules which stipulate employees “cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.”
How are the Different Agencies Reacting? | Criminal Fraud Solicitors
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
- As the result of the Magistrates’ and the Crown Courts having limited ability to list cases, mainly due to social distancing requirements, the CPS published an interim charging protocol.
- Within that protocol, the police and CPS should identify cases by reference to three categories:
- Immediate – custody and Covid-19 cases
- High priority cases – non-custody bail cases
- Other cases.
- Priority is being given to cases identified as immediate which include homicides, high risk domestic violence, serious violence, robbery and aggravated burglary, very serious public disorder, terrorist attacks and serious sexual offences. The category also includes Covid-19 dishonesty and fraud offences and Covid 19 related attacks on emergency workers. These cases are normally where the police / CPS will be seeking a remand in custody.
- Suspects in relation to less serious crime are being released on police bail or pending investigation in order for a charging decision to be made in due course. When a person is charged, the first court hearing date is being delayed with a long date sometimes months ahead in order to give the court space and time to resolve listing and backlog issues.
The Serious Fraud Office (the SFO)
- On the 7th May the SFO released a statement confirming that it remains open and, although some staff are working from home, suspected fraud, bribery and corruption continues to be investigated.
- The SFO continues to follow active lines of inquiry in open investigations, as well as looking into allegations and referrals at the pre-investigation stage. For the SFO it is business as usual stating:
“Fraudsters will look to use the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis to scam innocent people out of their money. The SFO is united with its law enforcement partners in our desire to prevent such fraud and hold the perpetrators to account.”
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the National Crime Agency (NCA)
Both the FCA and the NCA have maintained that their focus remains investigating fraud and prosecuting those that commit it.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
It would appear that, by contrast, HMRC is taking a more pragmatic approach by endeavouring to reach settlement under the civil enforcement COP9 regime. For more information regarding COP9’s please follow this link.
How Can We Help? | Kangs Criminal Fraud Defence Solicitors
Despite the additional demands inflicted by the pandemic companies and individuals will continue to be investigated and prosecuted for crime which they commit and which will inevitably include new ‘scams’ and criminal activity based on situations caused by the pandemic.
We welcome new enquiries by telephone or email.
Our team of lawyers is available to meet at our offices in London, Birmingham or Manchester or, alternatively, we are happy to arrange an initial no obligation meeting via telephone or video conferencing.
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