Insider dealing: the perfect offshore crime

August 18th, 2010

The FT has reported:

Organised criminals in the UK are becoming increasingly involved in financial frauds including insider share dealing that they see as lucrative and low risk, investigators have warned.

The trend – for 15 years a concern of US securities market regulators – is only now being explored in Britain where authorities are facing criticism for failing to co-ordinate on tackling financial crime.

Paul Evans, Soca’s (Serious Organised Crime Agency) director of intervention, said those people targeted by his agency – which covers areas such as drugs, people trafficking and extortion – appeared to be moving into financial crimes, where it was rare for severe sentences to be handed down. “I thought City fraud was in a sealed jar,” he said. “[But] I think the water in which our criminals swim is pretty common to all kinds of criminal behaviours.”

Mr Evans said he and others had noticed a “surprising level of correlation” between reports of suspicious financial transactions made to the FSA and to his organisation. That had led law enforcement agencies to sharpen their focus on financial sector intermediaries, such as bankers and lawyers, whom they saw as the “facilitators” of links between the two worlds.

“There are people with Janus personalities,” he said. “They face the public and they look compliant. But they face the criminals and they look useful.”

Apologies to the FT for the long quotation – but this is an issue in the public interest.

Financial crime has always been the subject of a soft touch in the UK – quite inappropriately. This is undoubtedly a facet of our class system: ‘nice’ people commit financial crime, “people like us” – as the judges might say.

But there’s more to it than that. The fact that a relative blind eye is turned to the issue mirrors the blind eye turned to offshore, where all of this will be recorded. I stress the word all, because I believe all of it will be recorded offshore.

The offshore secrecy world provides the perfect mechanisms to disguise such crime: complete anonymity, de facto or actual banking secrecy, no information required anywhere on public record, no requirement to file accounts or tax returns with public authorities, and the ready available of those Janus personalities referred to by Soca. I’ve called them the suppliers of corruption services in the past.  But call them bankers, lawyers and accountants if you like. The reality is that without these people these crimes would not be possible. But these crimes happen. Therefore these people are engaged in them. And almost all who do so will be offshore. In places like Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Howls of protest might follow.

But this is the reality of insider dealing crime.

Written by Richard Murphy

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