Aziz Rahman of Rahman Ravelli
Aziz Rahman, of award-winning solicitors Rahman Ravelli, explains how companies and individuals can defend themselves against business crime allegations.
If an investigation into suspected business crime is started, it can be stressful for a company and the individuals in it.
But it is important to remember that when allegations are made, that is all they are: they are accusations or suspicions that are being investigated, not cast-iron proof of guilt. And, like all accusations, they can be challenged.
Whether it be the police, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or other agency, they all have to investigate the allegations and see if there is enough evidence to bring a prosecution. It may be that no prosecution is brought because there is insufficient evidence.
The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) Full Code Test outlines the quality of evidence required to proceed with a prosecution. Section 4.4 states that prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. A prosecutor must decide whether an objective, impartial and reasonable jury, bench of magistrates or judge hearing a case alone would convict the defendant of the crime of which he or she is accused.
Business crime cases can be complex. This often means the investigation, and any decision on whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, can be long, drawn-out affairs. While this can be excruciating for the company or individual facing possible charges of, for example, bribery, it means that there is plenty of time and scope for their legal team to challenge the issues and so-called evidence that the prosecutors are focusing on.
Speaking from experience of many such cases, I can say that reliability of evidence is an area where allegations of business crime can be challenged successfully.
The reliability and accuracy of the evidence, not to mention the integrity of the person who provided it, can all be examined and questioned by a defence team acting on behalf of a company or individual. If anything that the prosecution is hoping to use as part of its case can be shown to be incorrect, it cannot be used – making it more likely a case will have to be dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Prosecutors will never want to give up on a business crime case. They may have conducted raids, amassed huge amounts of material that could be used as evidence and interviewed many people under caution. They may believe that they have found the “smoking gun’’ that implicates a company or individuals in bribery, tax evasion, money laundering or any other white-collar crime.
But a clued-up defence team may be able to argue that there are legal grounds for such material not being admissible at a trial. Or it may produce stronger evidence of its own that disproves the claims the prosecution intends to make if the case goes to trial.
It must be remembered that even if a case goes to trial, such evidence and prosecution argument can still be fiercely challenged in court.
Business crime investigations can involve scrutinising large amounts of printed and digitally-stored material, examining statements from many people and assessing conduct that may span years.
The complications in such cases will mean that prosecutors will know that there are aspects of their case that will be harder to prove than others. They may struggle to establish the precise reasons for a deal being done, why a transaction was carried out in the way it was or the motivation behind the conduct of certain individuals.
This means that there is always the chance to challenge the assumptions being made by the prosecution in a business crime case. Prosecutors may be able to prove that certain things happened. What they may struggle to do is convince a court that what happened constituted a crime.
Being accused of business crime is never pleasant. It is an area of law that is often complex and bewildering to people who are accused of it – people who are more comfortable doing business rather than grappling with the law. But the right legal challenges to the allegations and the prosecutors’ “evidence’’ can yield a fair and satisfactory outcome.
Aziz Rahman is founder of Rahman Ravelli; a top-ranked business crime law firm in national and international legal guides.