Courts’ scope widened

UK courts will be given greater powers to prosecute cases of international fraud, including false accounting, under the new Criminal Justice Act.

The changes, which come into force on 1 June, will make it possible for certain offences to be prosecuted in England and Wales if any act, omission or any other event tied to an offence takes place in the UK.

Courts normally have jurisdiction only when the actual offence, or part of it, takes place in England or Wales. The measures recognise that many frauds are international and make it possible for the courts to prosecute cases where any aspect takes place in the UK.

Among the offences open to prosecution after 1 June will be those by UK-based accountants falsely qualifying overseas accounts, or vice-versa.

Forensic accounting experts believe the changes have been introduced to try to prevent situations such as Polly Peck, whose collapse led to the flight of boss Asil Nadir to Northern Cyprus before he faced a fraud trial in 1993. Last year, the Joint Disciplinary Scheme threw Polly Peck’s former group accountant John Turner out of the English ICA for his part in the scandal. Criminal charges against Turner were dropped in 1993.

Introducing the new measures, home secretary Jack Straw said: ‘Because serious crime may take place across national boundaries, it is becoming increasingly important for states to prosecute, and to help others to prosecute, offences which do not occur in a single jurisdiction.’

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