The agency, which is tasked with recovering assets derived from crime, has admitted it may not have the expertise to bring the required proof against suspected criminals, where part of their activities fall into legitimate business or shell companies covering for illegal activities.
It is therefore looking to bring in forensic accounting experts from top accountancy firms who would be able to deconstruct a suspected businesses’ activity and identify whether there is sufficient proof that it has benefited from crime. ‘We have financial investigators that can handle most of the cases, especially lower-level criminals, but where a case gets sufficiently complex we have the resources to employ forensic accountants from external sources,’ said Adrian Brenton, director of operations at the agency.
A spokesman for the ARA confirmed that, although none of its cases had so far required the aid of accountancy firms, it was currently tendering to select a panel of firms to help with forensic accounting and had received presentations from a couple of the larger players.
He added that the body was also exploring the possibility of secondment with the firms in order to help train its financial investigators in forensic accounting and that other financial services may be required, such as receivers where a company has to be put into liquidation.
The agency has powers to confiscate the proceeds of crime where a criminal conviction has been proved, but can also bring civil cases against suspected criminals, where there is no conviction. It also has powers to tax companies and individuals in certain cases where the civil court route fails or is not viable.
The body is currently handling 26 cases across the UK including those in Northern Ireland, which has its own separate office and is 80% targeted at terrorism. Its cases so far involve assets worth around £10m, with £6m already restrained from individuals pending civil proceedings.
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