As the credit crunch bites, so does white collar crime. If the police arrive at your doorstep, which criminal law firm do you call, asks Christopher Silvester
As in most aspects of life, high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) who come into direct contact with the criminal law expect to receive the best possible service from their professional advisers. Naturally, from the moment they become the subject of an investigation by the authorities, HNWIs are looking favourably to affect the outcome.
Most HNWIs do not commit criminal offences,’ points out Monty Raphael, special counsel with Peters & Peters, though ‘they do have some peculiar problems, particularly in the areas of taxation and corporate delinquency.’ Peters & Peters has a dozen or so partners, a slightly larger number of associates, several trainees, and ‘various superannuated people like me with funny job titles’.
It is the oldest existing and best-known white-collar crime firm in the UK — ‘and the oldest in Europe, since we’ve been doing this since 1938’. Raphael observes that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is attacking tax havens in general and has said that it intends to devote £1 billion to pursuing tax avoiders as well as evaders.
‘Also, because many HNWIs have earned their fortunes from the City, they may have been involved in market abuse or insider dealing. ‘We don’t do much general crime any more,’ says Raphael.
Beyond these areas, some HNWIs and their family members become involved in murder cases, though it is more likely to be drugs or road-traffic offences.
‘Blue-collar crime is not committed in volume by high-net-worth individuals,’ Raphael emphasises. More often than not, the accused will ‘go to a local criminal solicitor rather than a specialist firm like mine or BCL Burton Copeland, which is where my daughter works’.
Ian Burton, a partner at BCL Burton Copeland, once told The Times that if he were ever arrested he’d call for Monty Raphael. So far he hasn’t had to make that call. Instead, his firm competes with Peters & Peters in their specialist sector of the law. Their only clients are HNWIs or public corporations.
‘For people of high net worth it’s a pretty awful shock, particularly when they’re getting involved in a fraud investigation,’ says Burton. ‘That may start today, the investigation may take three or four years, the trial may take six or nine months, and if they’re unfortunate enough to be convicted the consequences may last for another four years.
‘It can be a ten-year, beginning-to-end situation. It’s very difficult for them to conduct any business, so the consequences can be quite disastrous. It’s not only liberty-threatening; it’s also wealth-threatening. There are now very draconian laws in relation to the restraint of their assets during the currency of the investigation and during the trial, and then confiscation afterwards.’
The role of a criminal lawyer starts with his client’s initial point of contact with the authorities. Tuckers, which is the largest criminal practice in England and Wales, offers what it calls ‘a very discreet bespoke service from an impressive client room accessed by a private unlisted doorway’.
Its private client lawyers are on call around the clock and ‘are accustomed to working with media lawyers and agents to protect the identities of clients and their reputations’. According to Jules Carey, a partner, Tuckers has a team dedicated to police stations.
‘They know the best results you’re likely to achieve in any particular police station, with any particular custody officer. Most clients don’t want to be arrested or charged, of course, never mind be found not guilty at trial.’
If a person has the resources to employ lawyers who can make the difference, the first thing is to avoid an interview under caution or arrest (which can restrict travel abroad, especially to the USA).
‘Whereas ordinary defendants may preserve their resources for the main fight,’ says Ian Burton, those with resources may wish ‘to employ the sort of counsel who can go to court and stop the arrest taking place, try to persuade people that the client should not be interviewed under caution, that indeed they should be seen as a volunteer.
‘There have been instances where we have questioned whether or not it is necessary for the person to be arrested, and indeed we have threatened to judicially review the police if they decided that they were going to arrest, so we can prevent the arrest and arrange for the client to be seen as a volunteer.
The next step is to present a dossier of evidence and make representations that the client ought not to be charged. Such a proactive approach can be hugely expensive. You could spend, at that stage, more than what a lot of people would expect to spend on a whole trial.’
Under Labour, over 3,600 new criminal offences have been legislated into existence, which has dismayed Jules Carey of Tuckers. ‘I don’t think that people in the City have any idea of the extent to which business life as well as private life has been criminalised in recent years,’ he says.
When it comes to extradition and mutual legal assistance issues, Peter & Peters does an equal amount of work resisting extradition requests from the USA and the CIS. ‘One of our partners, Anand Doobay, is the co-author of the standard work, Jones & Doobay on Extradition and Mutual Assistance,’ notes Monty Raphael.
‘The recent trend of the Russians is to take over people’s businesses by all kinds of dishonest means, to drive them out of the country, and then try to discomfit them even more by requesting their extradition. None of these extradition requests has ever been granted.
‘We have very little difficulty in persuading the magistrates in London that the whole thing is politically motivated and has no merit whatsoever.’
Extradition to the US is more difficult to resist. The Extradition Act 2003, originally intended to ensure the extradition of terrorists to America, has primarily been used to extradite businessmen.
‘As long as it’s a chargeable offence,’ says Jules Carey, ‘then off you go. We have run most of the defences to extradition under the 2003 Act and we have had a number of successful outcomes, though mainly in reliance on the Human Rights Act.’
‘The US Department of Justice has a long reach,’ says BCL’s Ian Burton. ‘We’re travelling now on a fairly regular basis in relation to a large number of investigations by the US authorities. Advising people who are in their cross-hairs is now very much ordinary staple diet for a limited number of law firms.
‘That applies more now than in the past because jurisdictions are very much more transparent. Switzerland is a far more transparent jurisdiction than it ever was, as indeed is Liechtenstein.’
Burton recognises that it is a very different world today from when he started as a solicitor in Manchester back in the 1960s. Some clients have used his services on more than one occasion — Mohammed al-Fayed, for example.
‘I’m not sure clients would thank me for saying that we’ve represented them for many years,’ says Ian Burton, ‘because it sounds as though they’re forever committing crimes. Most clients would say that they come here on a one-stop basis. It’s not many people who get involved in two Guinness or Maxwell cases. Once is normally enough for most people.’