Thursday, 18 October 2012

Grant Shapps: master criminal?

I have - as is my wont - spent a happy hour or so perusing the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It is, as you'd expect, riveting. A real page-turner. Or mouse-clicker.

Why would I do this? Because I'm intrigued by the determination of the Conservative Party's determination to hold on to the money given to it by various Polly Peck subsidiaries without the consent of their shareholders and directors. Asil Nadir, the ultimate owner of these companies, fled to Northern Cyprus after they collapsed, taking £29m with him.

Given that this was the biggest scandal of the City in the 1980s, one would have thought that the Conservative Party would have been ashamed to be associated with this crook, and given the money back to help the failed companies' creditors. But they don't think like us.

More recently, Mr Nadir (and what a wonderful name for a man who was essentially competing with Robert Maxwell for Worst Shyster In London) came back and was found guilty of a number of offences. He's now in prison. So will the Tories give the money back now? Don't be ridiculous: as Oliver from Tory HQ said to me,
We have seen no evidence that money donated to the Conservative Party from the Polly Peck group was stolen.
The Polly Peck administrators wrote to the Party years ago asking for the cash back on the basis that it was stolen. Nadir's gone to prison for stealing cash and breaching his legal duties as a company director. One would have thought that was proof enough.

Based on my amateur scroll through the Proceeds of Crime Act, I'm not convinced that Oliver's claim is an adequate defence.  Let's look at some key clauses:

Money laundering2An offence under either of the following provisions of this Act—(a)section 327 (concealing etc criminal property);(b)section 328 (assisting another to retain criminal property).

To my untrained eye, the Polly Peck donations are criminal property if the donations weren't authorised by the shareholders and/or the directors. So the Tory Party has concealed criminal property and by refusing to give the cash back, retained criminal property.

But the Tories didn't steal any of this money, did they? Well, I seem to remember people going to prison after the London riots for holding on to property stolen by other people and then gifted to them. And lo! there's an applicable clause:

A person benefits from conduct if he obtains property or a pecuniary advantage as a result of or in connection with the conduct [of the criminal]
A gift is also tainted if it was made by the defendant at any time and was of property—(a)which was obtained by the defendant as a result of or in connection with his general criminal conduct, or(b)which (in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly) represented in the defendant’s hands property obtained by him as a result of or in connection with his general criminal conduct.

Boosting Party coffers certainly looks like 'pecuniary advantage' to me. So does a gift acquired through breaching directors' legal duties. And if that's not clear, how about this?

Acquisition, use and possession(1)A person commits an offence if he—(a)acquires criminal property;(b)uses criminal property;(c)has possession of criminal property.
And there's more!
242“Property obtained through unlawful conduct”(1)A person obtains property through unlawful conduct (whether his own conduct or another’s) if he obtains property by or in return for the conduct.(2)In deciding whether any property was obtained through unlawful conduct—(a)it is immaterial whether or not any money, goods or services were provided in order to put the person in question in a position to carry out the conduct,(b)it is not necessary to show that the conduct was of a particular kind if it is shown that the property was obtained through conduct of one of a number of kinds, each of which would have been unlawful conduct.

It doesn't really matter whether the Conservative Party thinks the money isn't stolen: it's committing a crime if the cash is stolen. 2 a and b seem to mean that a political donation from fraudulently acquired funds is covered: it doesn't matter whether or not Nadir or the Tories (who was close friends with senior Conservatives) expected to get anything from the gift. More to the point, ignorance is no defence. The Polly Peck story was sensational, and the Tories could only have missed it if none of its members opened a newspaper or watched the TV in 1988. Which seems unlikely:

A person commits an offence if he enters into or becomes concerned in an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person.
Given the overwhelming publicity, Conservative Party Chairs and Treasurers must now and must then have suspected that these donations were 'criminal property'. As I read it, that makes all Conservative Party employees (and members?) involved in donations who knew about the donation guilty of not reporting each other for continuing to retain, use and control criminal property. 

But it was all a long time ago, wasn't it? Not according to the law:
It is immaterial—(a)whether conduct occurred before or after the passing of this Act, and(b)whether property or a pecuniary advantage constituting a benefit from conduct was obtained before or after the passing of this Act.
A gift may be a tainted gift whether it was made before or after the passing of this Act.

I'd say the Tories have benefitted rather a lot before and after the passing of the Act from a donation of around £440,000.

Now, would any legal eagles like to offer an opinion on my amateur interpretation before I make a complaint to the police?

No comments: