The Debate: Setting up a fraud squad

A force to be reckoned with

By Douglas Llambias

In 1985 more than 60 experienced accountants volunteered their services to support my idea to create an accountants’ panel to help the Metropolitan and City Company Fraud Squad tackle major crimes.

Over the last 17 years this scheme has been very successful and contributed to improved police investigating skills and conviction levels on a substantial number of important cases whilst saving millions of pounds of public money.

The scheme still exists today but in line with the Woolf Law Reforms members of the accountants panel now assists the Met with expert witness opinions rather than investigatory skills, and for reasons I don’t understand the Serious Fraud Office has never used the accountants panel.

In June 2001 the Met police commissioner asked me for ideas to channel more help from the profession and he subsequently approved my new scheme whereby accountants who volunteer their services will work exclusively on fraud squad investigations.

Once again I hope that accountants will volunteer for these unique part-time roles that should make a major contribution to investigation efficiency and to further improving police conviction levels. The scheme should be formally launched with the Met in January. In my experience there is tremendous support for the police from within the accounting industry.

But not always have the available skills been used by the police and government in the most effective ways. On a separate matter, the recent report of the National Criminal Intelligence Unit again criticised the ‘small number’ of accountants reporting suspected money laundering.

It’s all well and good to place such responsibilities on ICAEW members but it is equally important that the personal safety is ensured of those members who do report serious matters.

Accordingly the Met has agreed to work more closely with the ICAEW to ensure members who suspect cases of fraud are aware of the witness protection schemes available to them if they are needed.

Douglas Llambias is an ICAEW council member and Business Exchange executive chairman.

Looking for leadership
By Michelle Perry

Accountants have criticised the Metropolitan Police for failing to throw its weight behind a scheme that would combine the expertise of accountants with those of the Met to combat money laundering.

Particularly the criticism is levelled at the Met’s inability to publicise an open day for volunteers to be recruited to a scheme that will allow accountants to assume police officer duties in complex fraud investigations.

Fighting money laundering has been pushed further up the agenda not just for the police but also for the government following the series of terrorist attacks around the world. The thinking is that if the flow of money can be halted so too can the terrorist atrocities, amongst other crimes.

And since accountants together with lawyers have been pinpointed as the usual port of call for advice on how to ‘clean’ money, it seems more than appropriate to use their skills.

There are other ways for accountants to play a role, such as through the National Criminal Intelligence Service. But here accountants appear to be lacking. NCIS continues to maintain that although disclosures have improved from the banking sectors, accountants and solicitors ‘continue to give concern with very few reports being made, despite their relative attractiveness to launderers’.

It’s time to stop the bickering and blame-laying and for a leader to put its head above the parapet to bring these two sectors of expertise together.

As it stands police forces do not have the funds to call on accountants, even at discounted rates offered by the existing fraud accountancy panels.

And will the new scheme proposed by Douglas Llambias and due to launch in January offer sufficient resources to make any kind of real progress?

Both the Serious Fraud Squad’s Rosalind Wright and Ken Farrow, head of the City of London police’s fraud squad, have called on the government to create a national fraud squad. And despite the Home Office’s insistence that it is looking at a way ‘to identify a way forward’, no announcements have been made. With the current will to fight fraud but the obvious obstacles to it, there has never been a better time for the government to take action and bring these two expertises together.

  • Michelle Perry is features editor on Accountancy Age.

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