Rich profit from law's poor policy

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The Independent Online
A two-tier legal system has been established in which the rich are free to commit multi-million pound "white collar" fraud and corruption while the police concentrate on catching the poor, according to a report published today.

Law enforcers and politicians are turning a blind eye to white-collar crimes largely because they are considered "victimless" and are being carried out by wealthy people, says the study, entitled Poverty, Crime and Punishment.

The author, Dee Cook, Associate Dean of the University of Wolverhampton, says that white-collar crime includes corporate crime, fraud, embezzlement and "fiddling" at work.

She says scandals such as the fraud case involving Nick Leeson and Barings Bank, BCCI, Robert Maxwell and Barlow Clowes, indicate the vast sums involved in corporate fraud, yet only a tiny number of people are brought to justice.

The report, published by the Child Poverty Action Group, also gives the official response to tax fraud and benefit fraud as an example of double standards.

It says that people involved in cheating the Department of Social Security are far more likely to end up in court even though the cost of their crime is much less than the white collar offences.

More than pounds 6bn in unpaid tax was recovered in the year ending April 1995, yet only 357 people were prosecuted - of which just nine were for tax evasion - compared with 9,546 fraud cases mounted by the DSS. Most of these cases involved small amounts of money and saved an estimated pounds 650m.

The report concludes: "When we compare the policing and investigation of tax evasion with that of social security fraud we have evidence of `one law for the rich, another for the poor'."

The police are far more likely to target "street" crimes were there is an obvious victim, such as mugging, but more reluctant to spend large resources on apparently victimless offences such as insider dealing, claims the study.

The report argues: "The very language associated with huge financial frauds is managerial, low key and not censorious."

Among the examples given of recent white-collar crimes are:

The pounds 12bn to pounds 15bn estimated to have been lost in the massive frauds uncovered in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991.

Barings of Britain lost pounds 865m on Japanese futures trading by Nick Leeson in 1995.

NatWest Markets lost pounds 89m on mis-priced European interest rate options, which was made public early this year.

Dee Cook concludes: "In an increasingly divided society there has been an intensified policing and punishment of poorer individuals and communities. The poor are filtered into the criminal justice system while the rich are filtered out."