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Prosecution Policy (Financial Institutions)

Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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What monitoring role she performs regarding decisions whether to prosecute in connection with suspicious transactions reported to the authorities by financial institutions. [108264]

The Attorney-General and I superintend the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office, who are independent, and they make the decisions on whether to prosecute suspicious transactions reported by financial institutions. We regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss current investigations and prosecutions.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that bank reports to the authorities of suspicious transactions have rocketed in recent years, and that there were more than 50,000 such reports last year? Given that the whole country is rightly focused on depriving terrorists of their funds, stopping money laundering and denying smugglers the proceeds of their trade in human beings, drugs and alcohol and tobacco, can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the prosecuting authorities are sufficiently geared up to respond to the enormous rise in the number of such suspicious transactions?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In the past, fraud has all too often been considered as a victimless white-collar offence that is not important. My hon. Friend is right to say that money laundering, drug trafficking and human trafficking are all connected with money laundering. Prosecutors across different departments have been working together on the issue, as have ministerial colleagues. My hon. Friend will know that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which introduces a new offence of failing to disclose suspicious transactions, came into force in February this year, and that further money laundering regulations placing obligations on professionals to disclose will be introduced later this year. The international fraud business lies behind a lot of other crime, and we have to gear up our act to tackle it.

The Solicitor-General is, of course, right to concentrate on the use of anti-money-laundering and proceeds of crime legislation against terrorism and other serious crimes such as drug smuggling. Will she accept the point that I put to her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office, however, that some financial institutions have used the legislation, which has laudable intentions, to impose extra and very burdensome obligations on customers, particularly on small charities, and have sought to increase their statutory requirements by adding requests for intrusive information for their own commercial reasons? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of charities who have contacted me to look into this matter? We do not want laudable anti-terrorism legislation being misused to intrude too much into people's personal lives and personal information and to disrupt the valuable work that charities do.

Of course, I agree to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the important issues that he raises. Clearly, a balance must be struck: on the one hand, charities and small businesses do not want to be overburdened by reporting regulations, but on the other, they are often victims of fraud themselves. Fraud against small businesses and charities is an issue that they are rightly concerned about dealing with. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and to take those issues forward.

The Customs and Excise prosecution office now comes under the Solicitor-General's Department's aegis. Millions of pounds have been lost to the Exchequer in connection with the failed London City Bond and Stockade prosecutions. When will those matters be resolved finally? When they are resolved, will she make a statement to the House?

When the matters are resolved finally, I shall certainly consider how to give the House appropriate information as required on those important cases. I know that the hon. Gentleman has corresponded with and met the Attorney-General in relation to the matter, and that he takes an interest in these issues. I cannot comment further at this stage, but, clearly, we keep the issue under review.