Finance crimes to be offered plea bargains

Elizabeth Fournier
CORPORATE criminals could soon be offered US-style plea bargains, under a new scheme by the Ministry of Justice to encourage companies to admit wrongdoing and avoid fraud charges.

Instead of facing an automatic prosecution, firms will be given the opportunity to publically own up to economic crimes, and given a strict set of conditions with which they must then comply.

These could include fines, regulatory monitoring, internal reforms and making reparations to victims.

But lawyers warned that the relatively small reduction in the fine a firm would be offered – just 30 per cent – may put companies off the idea of self-reporting.

“The proposed scheme offers scarce incentive and little certainty of outcome for those considering coming forward and self-reporting,” said Jones Day lawyer Glyn Powell, the former head of fraud business at the SFO.

“[The 30 per cent discount] is low when you take into account that corporates who are prosecuted and plead guilty receive the same discount.”

With fraud alone estimated to cost the UK £73bn each year, the government is hoping that encouraging firms to self report will avoid the need for drawn-out and often expensive investigations.

“Deferred prosecution agreements ... will ensure that more unacceptable corporate behaviour is dealt with including through substantial penalties, proper reparation to victims, and measures to prevent future wrongdoing,” said justice minister Damian Green.