Where a suspected economic crime has been committed, there are currently two main options available to prosecutors in the UK: (i) an investigation into the alleged offence which may ultimately result in reporting to the relevant authorities and/or civil recovery under Part V of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) or (ii) where there is stronger evidence to suggest that an offence has been committed, criminal prosecution. A key MoJ objective is to give prosecutors a middle ground option in order to avoid protracted investigations or trials, particularly for sophisticated and multi-jurisdictional economic crimes. High profile examples include the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into BAE Systems, spanning from 2003 to 2010, and ongoing investigations into Wal-Mart de Mexico, whose executives are accused of concealing approximately $24 million worth of bribes to officials since 2005 to speed the construction of new stores.
It is anticipated that US-style DPAs will assist the justice system in England and Wales in tackling more instances of white collar and economic crime. DPAs will enable prosecuting authorities and defendant commercial organisations to more easily assess instances of economic crime and enter into arrangements tailored specifically to their needs.
It may take some time before DPAs are smoothly integrated into the pre-existing binary enforcement system in the UK. The coalition government’s focus on fighting white collar crime, evidenced by the Bribery Act 2010, the self reporting initiative (encouraging companies to self report bribery offences) launched to coincide with the Bribery Act 2010 coming into force in July 2011 and the planned implementation of the National Crime Agency as a crime fighting unit in 2013, is admirable. However, the limited resources and drastically reduced budget of leading investigatory bodies such as the SFO demonstrate that greater change is needed in order to ensure economic crime is recognised as a serious issue.