Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Government must put its money where its mouth is to fight corruption, say lawyers

Government must put its money where its mouth is to fight corruption, say lawyers


Serious Fraud Office needs increased funding to level the playing field in war on corruption

Combating corruption at home and abroad takes more than words and ideals, it takes money, lawyers have argued ahead of a landmark international anti-corruption summit in London.

This week, the prime minister, David Cameron, will bring together world leaders and heads of business to agree a package of measures to tackle corruption 'across the board'. The government has invited the 20 member states of the G20 to the summit on 12 May.

While talk of the summit has been overshadowed by unguarded comments made by the prime minister - that Afghanistan and Nigeria were 'possibly the most corrupt countries' - UK lawyers have called on the government to pay attention to funding issues closer to home.

Ahead of the summit, Stephen Parkinson, head of the criminal litigation team at Kingsley Napley, said: 'Cameron is to be commended for leading the charge to step up global action to "expose, punish, and drive out corruption". Yet pointing the spotlight alone is not enough.

'Without effective resources for law enforcement such high level political ambition will not be translated into effective investigation and prosecutorial action.

'The government should guarantee [Director of the Serious Fraud Office] David Green's recent budget package for the SFO on a permanent basis as a sign of its total commitment to fighting corruption on a practical, as well as rhetorical, level.'

Barry Vitou, a partner and head of global corporate crime at Pinsent Masons, agreed: 'Business' position is clear. They want a level playing field to compete on and law enforcement agencies which are well-resourced enough to tackle corruption and white collar crime effectively.

'Companies of all sizes want to know they are protected, and that they are not going to incur losses or disruption as a result of corrupt practices.'

Vitou also slammed the chronic under-funding of UK enforcement agencies tasked with fighting corruption and other economic crimes.

'The City of London police force has seen a 15 per cent budget cut over the last five years,' he said. 'The number of economic crime investigations undertaken by the force has fallen over the same period from 777 in 2011/12, to 563 in 2014/15 (a fall of 28 per cent).

'Since October 2012, the [SFO] has used a "blockbuster funding" model, whereby its core budget is supplemented as necessary by "emergency funding" from the Treasury. In the last three years, the agency has had to request almost £80m in additional funds.

'Corrupt businesses and bribe seekers have no such limits on their activities.'

Ahead of the summit, a group of professional bodies spanning law and accountancy pledged to continue their work tackling bribery, corruption, tax-evasion, money laundering, and the financing of international terrorism.

The organisations, convened by the Law Society of England and Wales, include the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), STEP, and the law societies of Northern Ireland and Scotland, among others.

Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society said: 'The UK has a leading role to play in tackling this blight. We already have some of the toughest anti-money laundering rules, and the profession of solicitors along with accountants, and others stand united against corruption in all its forms.'