The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced a new “fraud squad” to recover money stolen from the state-backed Covid Bounce Back Loan Scheme. It is estimated that approximately £5 billion of taxpayers’ money has been lost to criminal fraud from the scheme.
This new agency is expected to be operational by July this year and will have £25 million of funding, effectively doubling the Government’s central budget for counter-fraud capacity.
There has been recent criticism of the UK’s role in illicit finance and the UK Government’s efforts to tackle serious fraud. The introduction of this new agency is therefore a notable development and the increased funding will no doubt be welcomed by many.
However, some experts have voiced concerns that a “siloed” approach to combating financial crime is a hindrance rather than an advantage and that crimes are going unpunished because responsibility for tackling them is too dispersed between agencies. Adding another enforcement body into that mix seems likely to exacerbate this issue.
Nevertheless, the creation of new targeted agencies appears to be a significant part of the UK Government’s strategy. Last February, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced to Parliament that there would be a new “cell” created within the National Crime Agency for combating “kleptocracy”. This Kleptocracy Cell will conduct investigations into sanctions evasion and money laundering by targeting corrupt elites and their key enablers. It will also provide support for cross-government sanctions delivery and enforcement.
There continues to be a very high level of activity and output from the UK Government regarding economic crime with, among other things, another Economic Crime Bill expected shortly and the creation of these new enforcement bodies. However, the impact of these innovations remains to be seen and, in particular, whether sufficient support will be provided to ensure their ongoing success. With the independent review into the Serious Fraud Office anticipated in the coming weeks, the UK’s anti-financial crime landscape may soon look very different. We continue to monitor developments with interest.