Brexit and Business Crime: What Next?

The UK is receiving a record number of European arrest warrants for suspects that have fled other European Union countries. Neil Williams, of business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, is concerned for the cross-border policing of business crime if and when Brexit becomes reality.

Statistics recently released and publicised show that a record number of European criminals are believed to be on the run in Britain.

Analysis of figures produced by the National Crime Agency (NCA) reveals that the UK received 17,256 European arrest warrants last year for suspects wanted by police in other European Union countries.

This figure includes 619 people who are sought in connection with murders or manslaughters, 229 who are suspected of rape and 265 suspected paedophiles. And although there was a record number of warrants, the number of arrests from April 2017 to April 2018 as a result of such warrants was 1,027: a five-year low and a 35% drop on the figure for 2016-17.

Such statistics do little to raise the mood. But the situation is perhaps more serious than the figures suggest. That is due largely, of course, to the prospect of Brexit. Last year the Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill QC, said that a no-deal Brexit would result in delays in suspects being extradited if the UK was to leave the European arrest warrant system.

This is an issue that goes beyond those alleged to have committed the most horrific crimes. It highlights the problems that Brexit can bring for the investigation and prosecution of business crime.

Business is more multinational than ever before. As a result, business crime and the investigations it prompts are more likely than ever to cross borders and involve law enforcement agencies from a number of countries. The UK’s enforcement agencies regularly liaise with their foreign counterparts on complex and multijurisdictional cases; often working together and sharing information and expertise. Extradition has been a relatively routine procedure. Whether that will continue remains to be seen.

The lack of a post-Brexit security agreement has already cast doubt on the UK’s ability to extradite suspects or convicted individuals from EU countries under the European arrest warrant scheme. Post-Brexit extraditions could still be sought under the 1957 Council of Europe treaty but these will be more complex and expensive for the government than a standard European arrest warrant extradition.

In February 2018, Ireland’s Supreme Court declined a request to extradite an Irish company director to London, who had fled the UK after a tax fraud conviction. The court did this on the grounds that by the time he finished his prison sentence, the UK would have left the EU.  February 2018 also saw a German court refuse to extradite four former Deutsche Bank traders to the UK to face trial for Euribor rigging. The following month, Monaco refused to extradite Unaoil executive Saman Ahsani to the UK to face corruption charges following an “adverse opinion’’ from Monaco’s Court of Appeal. A court official stated that the allegations against Ahsani were not liable for criminal prosecution, under Monaco’s laws, at the time they were alleged to have occurred.

Extradition appears to be in a state of flux. But it is a far from the only business-related problem. The National Crime Agency has stated that money laundering opportunities may rise after Brexit. While critics of the European Union (EU) could claim with some justification that it has not been exemplary when it comes to tackling money laundering it has at least introduced a series of directives to stop the proceeds of crime flowing into member states.

Membership of the EU has been no guarantee of protection against laundering. But it has led to progress in this area. It can be argued that the UK enforcement agencies’ prowess in tackling money laundering and other forms of business crime is unrivalled by those nations staying in the EU. This may mean individuals EU members missing the UK’s expertise. But from a UK point of view, it is hard to see such prowess remaining at its existing level if its enforcement agencies can no longer rely on the relationships that currently exist between them and their European counterparts.

EU withdrawal means a UK exit from the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, whose centralised intelligence is a massively valuable asset in tackling cross-border crime. Even though the UK has tough anti-money laundering and corruption legislation and its agencies have recently been given enhanced powers to identify and seize the proceeds of crime, its likely loss of valuable cross-border cooperation could prove costly.

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