While the grave repercussions of economic crime are fully appreciated today, approaches to combating this category of crime are incomplete and defective mainly because some significant types of offenders have escaped notice and remain entirely outside the ambit of preventive and penal measures developed by the law, Professor G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs and former Distinguished Visiting Fellow of Christ’s College, University of Cambridge, said on Monday.
He was delivering a keynote address at the international symposium on economic crime at Jesus College, University of Cambridge.
Among others delivering keynote addresses at this event were Mr. Dominic Grieve QC, Attorney-General of England and Wales, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC, former Advocate General of Scotland, Justice I Auta, Chief Justice of Nigeria, and Sir Anthony Bottoms, Emeritus Wolfson Professor of Criminology in the University of Cambridge.
The main focus of the law and regulatory agencies continues to be on dishonest stockbrokers, auditors, hedge fund managers, bank and public officials, as well as corporate personalities who are identified as the principal, if not sole, perpetrators of economic crime. While legal safeguards and procedures have been imaginatively developed, the thrust of public policy innovations has been to curtail opportunities for delinquency on the part of these persons, Prof. Peiris said.
Although it is true that there has been increasing recognition of the link between economic crime and terrorist activity, here again the focus of attention is almost invariably on groups resorting to violence for the accomplishment of political ends and the use of economic resources for such purposes.
What has been neglected is the exceedingly harmful role of fringe or support groups linked in a variety of ways to terrorist organizations and able to function unobtrusively because of the lack of a high profile. The fact that they set about their activity in the shadows, for the most part attracting no public scrutiny, enhances the danger, Prof. Peiris observed.
Commenting on the theme of the symposium, ‘Economic Crime: The Myths and Realities’ he characterized as a myth the facile belief that economic crime can be suppressed exclusively by targeting the traditional miscreants, since the reality of the current situation demands action against fringe groups if the risks are to be reduced.
He dealt comprehensively with the dangers posed by the activities of these groups.
They are often major actors with regard to abuse of immigration laws and procedures. People smuggling, frequently using unseaworthy vessels involving hazard to human life, has proved an immensely lucrative enterprise, the dimensions of which are today causing concern in many countries. The scale of the problem is demonstrated by the apprehension of more than a thousand illegal immigrants within three months by the Sri Lanka Navy in the waters around the Island. Several nations of the West are now actively engaged in tightening up their laws in respect of refugee status and show special eagerness in preventing abuse of hospitality pending lengthy processing of applications for refugee status, especially in situations where documents pertaining to identity have been wilfully destroyed. These activities have been found to contribute significantly to the aggravation of law and order problems, he continued. The abuse of welfare and unemployment benefits, and facilities in respect of health and education, are aspects of this issue, he said.
He observed that these groups, which develop vested interests in the receiving countries, have a vital stake in artificially creating conditions which enable them to live indefinitely overseas. To achieve this end, they feel the compelling need to ‘brand’ their countries of origin negatively and, in most cases, to demonise them for partisan purposes. The high incidence of crimes committed by these groups, with particular reference to crimes with an economic dimension ̶ such as money laundering, insider dealing and bank fraud – has caused some European countries to send teams of investigators and prosecutors to the countries of origin, with a view to gathering relevant evidence.
The stability of the countries of origin is placed in jeopardy by the sustained efforts of these groups to vilify domestic procedures aimed at promoting unity and reconciliation after periods of conflict. Illegal transmission of funds to strengthen extremist groups and to nurture fundamentalist attitudes destructive of national cohesion, has added complexity to the problem. This activity has the principal purpose of “imaging” the country of origin at the international level, using modern technology and an extensive network of collaborators, in such a manner as to win sympathy for these groups in the countries of adoption and to enable extension of their stay there.
In this endeavour, they are assisted by political personalities who find the resources and organizational skills possessed by these groups, a material asset in political activities including elections. Sympathy is further enlisted by skillfully cultivating relationships with the media and civil society organisations. In some cases the favourable climate of opinion engendered by sustained propaganda, involving the use of substantial funds, has resulted in an atmosphere of tolerance reflected not only in flexibility with regard to executive action but also, on occasion, in leniency in respect of sentencing policy in the judicial sphere.
Prof. Peiris emphasized that this permissive attitude operates in practice as a strong disincentive to control of economic crime and that recognition of this reality is an essential starting point for an effective approach to dealing with a problem which is rightly perceived as a threat to the economy of many nations.
The audience consisted of Government Ministers, judges, legislators, diplomats, bankers, business leaders, and representative of regulatory bodies and civil society organizations from across the world.