…for the better we hope! The pessimists continue to decry the Government’s valiant attempts to deal with the pandemic – not just in the UK but everywhere. Then there are the forecasts of disaster and ruin that there will be when we are all allowed back on the streets. Perhaps there should be more positivity, as we hopefully will learn something from the cruel message that mother nature is playing on us all? One of the ways in which things might change for the better is the way in which the courts are run.
The Virus Could Permanently Alter The Courts
As a forensic accountant, the product of my labour is intended for a financial dispute or economic crime that may well need to be settled in a court or some other form of regulatory hearing or tribunal. The outbreak of coronavirus resulted in the immediate closure of around half of the courts in England with all jury trials being suspended. However, many hearings continued with a much greater use of video links in order to reduce the need for the physical presence of witnesses, lawyers and even the judges. In March 2020, a $ half billion case brought by the Republic of Kazakhstan against the Bank of New York Mellon was heard with all parties connecting using the “Zoom” video conferencing software (Source The Times 2nd April 2020 – I wish I had bought shares in Zoom last year).
I attend court as an expert witness for a few of my cases every year. Invariably I sit around, answering a question or two from counsel and occasionally get to give some oral evidence for a few minutes, rarely for as long as an hour. Of course if I have had to travel from my office to London, Manchester or Newcastle (as examples) I have lost a full day’s work often to provide only a few minutes assistance to a case. Much better to be on the other end of a telephone or computer screen, on call but free to spend the time productively on other matters. Instead of a claim for a whole day’s attendance plus travel expenses, the case now incurs a fraction of the cost.
Such remote contact for all parties would save substantial sums. There have been several occasions where I have traveled to a court (a recent trip to Bristol Crown Court from York springs to mind) whereupon all parties were informed that the case was being postponed a couple of days! That was a very long wasted day sitting in my car on the M1 and M5.
Anti-Money Laundering Solutions?
It is a popular premise that times of strife encourage criminals and I am sure that events such as the Covid-19 outbreak will be no different. I have often written how it seems that downturns in the economy generate a spike in fraud cases coming to light following recovery. I suspect this will happen following the virus, my feeling is that the criminals will exploit the weaknesses in the financial systems as the economy gets back on to a level footing to move its ill gotten wealth. There is always a massive quantity of criminal funds waiting to be moved, which normally must be released carefully into the recognized conduits involving Hawala money transfers, transfer of trade indebtedness and various other methods. I suspect the opportunity will be seized by organized money launderers in the coming months to exploit our weaknesses.
As a forensic accountant specializing in fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, I have worked in the aftermath of a number of recessions. I am hoping that the current virus will stimulate the economy following the massive capital injections being made by many countries, and the associated crime will unfortunately also accompany this!
It must be remembered that there is always one or more innocent parties involved in a money laundering transaction. A crook has to find a way to move money into the legitimate financial system, and usually finds unsuspecting parties in order to do this. This is why businesses and individuals suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of the authorities’ attention when their businesses and bank accounts have been hijacked to conceal criminal funds. This is an area where I spend a lot of my working time, separating the illegal activity from the legitimate in order that the regulators can see the money laundering activity that is taking place – otherwise they have the unfortunate habit of assuming the worse!
In the near future, particularly, you must be on guard – you must protect your business and financial affairs by adhering to good anti-money laundering practices – even if you might not be a regulated party and might not be legally obliged to do this:
- Do not transfer large sums of money in or out of the UK without using the services of a reputable mainstream transfer service (such as a bank or other reputable organization).
- Only allow transfers in and out of your accounts where you have full supporting documentation.
- Provide training to your staff to recognize “suspicious transactions” in order that you can make the proper disclosures to the authorities, not miss any criminal activity creeping into your business, and thus protect yourself.