The National Crime Agency has teamed up with the Solicitors Regulation Authority to launch a strategic crackdown on money launderers in London. This would mark “the first major British attempt to get a grip on the use of the City to launder billions of pounds in criminal proceeds”.
This is a big step. It follows recent calls from Alexander Lebedev, owner of The Independent and the Evening Standard, for the creation of a £40 million “sleuthing agency” to address international corruption. Lebedev was also quoted in The Times this month as saying that he considered London to be the money-laundering capital of the world.
So the regulators are certainly talking tough, in a way that is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the SFO during the early years of the introduction of the 2010 Bribery Act. The aim is to clean up London’s reputation in this area and, given the UK’s huge reliance on the revenue generated by the City of London, to do it fast. London wants to follow in the footsteps of New York in landing a “big fish”- last month US officials fined Standard Chartered £180 million after identifying breaches in their surveillance systems which potentially allowed illegal payments to be processed by the bank.
This is surely a significant moment in the history of financial regulation of the City of London. But what will this crackdown mean for legal PR practitioners? Well, that depends on which side of the fence you are sitting.
When acting for regulators, it will be of paramount importance to ensure that this tougher rhetoric is reflected in the overall messaging strategy. In the post-2008 world of banker-bashing, the public need to have the confidence that white collar crime is being taken seriously by those in charge.
When acting for a defendant in court proceedings, by contrast, tactics can be more nuanced. A defendant company or an individual will be in “damage limitation” mode. Fundamentally, it needs to emphasise that it remains innocent until proven guilty, while keeping fully compliant with the rulings of the court. It also needs to get across its side of the story in the midst of a tough regulatory environment. But the client will certainly not want to alienate a judge by playing the dispute out in the media, so this can often be a difficult balance to strike.
Whichever side of the fence you are on, there is no doubt that these cases will come in thick and fast over the coming months.
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