Legal Funding For Fraud Cases Brought Into Question

Legal Funding For Fraud Cases Brought Into QuestionA BBC One documentary has questioned the funding of super-rich criminals’ legal bills, prompting some of the country’s most eminent barristers to call for urgent reform of how criminal defence proceedings are funded.

The Inside Out investigation looked at the case of Syed Ahmed and Shakeel Ahmad, who were responsible for one of Britain’s biggest ever tax frauds. The pair, who stole £32 million of funds via their scam, which involved VAT fraud on computer hardware, have benefited from £300,000 in taxpayer-funded legal aid over the past three years. This is despite the pair having a lengthy portfolio of assets including a £4.5m apartment in Knightsbridge and two tower blocks in Dubai.

The BBC investigation found that around 50 defendants who had assets worth over £1 million have received legal aid to fund their defence.

Upon being charged with a crime, a defendant’s assets are frozen, meaning their criminal defence must be paid for from public funds. The idea is that if found guilty, defendants can be issued with confiscation orders which force them to repay the illegally obtained proceeds from their crime along with their legal costs. The BBC suggest however that confiscation orders are often ineffective, with criminals using every possible means to avoid having to pay up. Ahmed and Ahmad for example still owe the £32m they were ordered to pay back and in total, the outstanding bill for confiscation orders in England and Wales is over £1 billion.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC, commented: “Criminal cases are littered with examples of people ordered to pay money who wriggle out of it for years and years – sometimes for good.
“Much simpler [would be] to say this man can afford his own lawyers, he can be required to pay his legal bills himself out of his restrained assets. If he’s acquitted he gets the money back, if he’s convicted he won’t.”

A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice commented: “Offenders who can afford to contribute to the cost of their defence should do so. Reforms to asset freezing are currently being considered to ensure that both proceeds of crime and legal aid costs are recovered.”

Frenkels Forensics area specialist forensic accountancy firm providing expert assistance in cases involving proceeds of crime. Our forensic accountants are instructed to act for defendants and prepare detailed reports responding to the reports put forward by the CPS. Our forensic accountancy reports can help to exclude assets that have been obtained legitimately from confiscation.

For more information please contact John Frenkel or Vivian Cohen.


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