Senior executives could be prosecuted for fraud offences by staff

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Senior corporate executives could be prosecuted for offences including fraud and money laundering carried out by staff under an expansion of laws targeting so-called white-collar crime.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said the Government is to consult on plans to extend "failure to prevent" offences, currently only covering bribery and tax evasion, to a wider range of economic crimes committed by employees, also including false accounting.

It comes after former prime minister David Cameron in May announced a consultation on plans for a new law as he held an anti-corruption summit in London.

In a speech to the Cambridge Symposium on Economic Crime on August 5, Mr Wright said: "When considering the question 'where does the buck stop?' and who is responsible for economic crime, it is clear that the answer is to be found at every level, from the boardroom down. Both corporations and individuals are responsible.

"The intention of the Government actions I have described is not only to prosecute and to fine for breaches of the law, but to promote a culture of corporate responsibility so that we are addressing the threat earlier on and not just reacting to it through investigation and prosecution.

"A change in culture is something that will take time but the results, as we are already starting to see, will be worth the effort."

Writing in The Guardian in May ahead of the London summit, Mr Cameron said the new laws would mean "firms are properly held to account for criminal activity that takes place within them".

Barry Vitou, partner in fraud and white-collar crime at law firm Pinsent Masons, told The Times: "The present regime makes it practically impossible to hold corporate boards to account for corporate misconduct because evidence of that misconduct must be found at the highest level.

"In practice the evidence trail usually dries much lower down the corporate tree. There is no responsibility for the damage caused by failing to prevent economic crime nor incentives offered which motivate people to do the wrong thing."