Police find white-collar crimes mind-boggling, said Assistant Commissioner of Police Glen Hackett said on Friday. “When one considers the levels of sophistication, elaborateness and overall complexity that envelopes the spawning (of) some of these schemes, their development and actual perpetration, it’s mind boggling,” he said. “The level of sophistication and complexity of these white-collar crimes can sometimes be overwhelming for most police prosecutors and limit their scope for effective prosecutions in court,” he said.
The ACP told his audience of procurement professionals, mainly from the public sector, that technical complexity, reluctance of victims to seek prosecution, inadequate punishment, trial dynamics, onerous document examination and forged currency, are the major challenges faced by law enforcement officers in prosecuting white-collar criminals.
“Equally, if not more sophisticated, elaborate and complex is the intricately woven web which the fraudster spins in order to cover his or her tracks, and ultimately prevent discovery of the crime,” he said. The ACP said that even if the crime is discovered, it usually involves “layers of documents” to be analysed from which items are usually missing or incomplete. These are usually accompanied by “layers of activities” which are designed to mask the origin of the fraud, and ultimately the culprit’s identity, he said.
“In some instances, the perpetrator has employed the use of highly technological means which sometimes temporarily stultifies the alacrity of the ensuing investigative process as the investigators are not sometimes immediately seised of the requisite capacity to reconstruct the crime,” he said.
Explaining the “reluctance of victims to seek prosecution,” he said that upon discovery, the victims often undergo a period of denial that they have been duped, and subsequently attempt to conjure some rational reason for the event. The victim becomes “subsumed by feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy if details of the fraud are revealed to anyone, more so (to) the authorities. This often precludes the victim from reporting the matter to the authorities.”
On some occasions, he said, even if a report is made, the victim is often reluctant to discuss the matter in court. “They rationalise that they were not the victims of violent crimes and have not been subjected to bodily harm,” he said.
In cases of employee fraud, Hackett said, witnesses are sometimes reluctant to testify against colleagues, as they rationalise the companies are indemnified by insurance. In other instances, victims are reluctant to testify against the perpetrators if the stolen property has been recovered by the authorities, or where an attempt at perpetration was made but not completed because of the early intervention of law enforcement, the ACP said.
“Business executives, directors, etc, are also reluctant to attend court as they view this phenomenon as counterproductive and a time-wasting exercise. Some victims refuse to pursue the matter for fear of reprisal by the perpetrator(s),” he said.
Hackett was speaking last Friday at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad hotel, Port-of-Spain. The ACP, to whom the Fraud Squad, the Anti-Corruption Unit and the Financial Investigations Bureau report, was explaining to the Third Caribbean Public Procurement Conference the challenges faced by his office in the prosecution of white-collar criminals.
Punishment and crime
“Some sociologists subscribe to the concept that emphasis was ascribed to accentuated punishment for the perpetration of property crimes as against white-collar crimes. There is widespread perception that punishment for white-collar crimes is not commensurate with the hurt, pain and loss suffered by victims,” he said.
There is also “widespread perception” that white-collar offenders, because of their ill-gotten gains, are best able to circumnavigate the realm of the law, he said. For example, they may have “access to the best legal representation and the ability to sustain (the) litigation process.”
The perception of inequality “often times deter victims and witnesses from adducing the evidence necessary to promulgate successful prosecutions,” he said. The ACP said, “Pre-trial and trial issues like matters of disclosure and other legal arguments tend to prolong the process, and generally retard the alacrity with which matters are dealt. Time spent on these issues tend to discourage victims or witnesses from continuing with their participation in these matters.”
Turning to document examination and forged currency, the ACP said, “Document examination is a very meticulous and tedious exercise and an expert is required to adduce the appropriate evidence for successful prosecution. However, the agency so charged with that type of expertise is severely short-staffed in that particular field, and this process from submission to retrieval is somewhat protracted.”
During the course of an investigation of fraud at financial institutions, “often times, the investigator needs to obtain documentary evidence of the misdeed from the institution,” he said.
These institutions raise “issues of privacy with respect to these documents” and the investigator has to obtain these documents “by way of warrants,” he said. Another challenge arises when the investigator has to execute these warrants, he said, because the investigator “has no idea where the institution has lodged these documents.”
As a result, Hackett said, “Investigators depend on the goodwill of the financial institutions to make the documents available.” He said “this takes a lot of time” and is different from executing a warrant on a house.
Fighting financial crimes
Despite the challenges, the ACP said, there are “a number of initiatives that have been ongoing in the effort to detect, investigate and prosecute offenders of fraud and other white-collar crimes.”
The Fraud Squad officers “have been engaged in awareness lecture programmes” delivered at organisations upon request, he said. These sessions allow for an exchange of information between the public and the officers, and “provide a mechanism for alerting citizens on fraud typologies and the steps that can be taken to minimise becoming a victim of fraud,” he said.
For the most part, banks have created within their organisations an anti-fraud unit for the protection of account holders, he said. “By sharing a good working relationship with these entities, investigators are able to reduce the difficulties encountered in obtaining vital information or documents that are required for investigation. It is also facilitated (by) the occurrence of joint efforts to combat bank card fraud,” he said.
The police are also pursuing further studies to combat financial crimes. The ACP said, “As a means of keeping au courant with regional and international fraud techniques, requests have been made for training of personnel, as it has been realised that continuous training is a vital component to maintain efficiency.”
He said his office is also pursuing “training of court prosecutors to enhance their skill set in order to be professional, efficient and effective in their presentation of evidence in trials for white-collar crimes.”
The officers of the Fraud Squad “are known for their diligence when it comes to the preparation and submission of case files,” he said. “Officers also engage in pre-hearing discussions with prosecutors where necessary “in order to minimise the misunderstandings during the eliciting of evidence,” he said.
He said his office is also engaged in “proactive surveillance for new trends.” While fraud is generally a reactive type of offence, those who tend to be repeat offenders are kept under surveillance, as far as predictable, “as a means of pre-empting a planned, unlawful activity,” he said.
“Officers also keep a sharp look out for new and developing trends and advisories are made to the public via the Police Public Affairs Unit,” he said.
The ACP said the Fraud Squad relies on expertise to prosecute financial criminals. He offered some suggestions, including that the Fraud Squad “recruit expertise from (the) broader public service on secondment,” including accountants and attorneys.