At the end of May, and following a consultation process in which I participated with much pleasure and about which I blogged here, the UK’s Sentencing Council issued its definitive guideline on sentencing for offences of fraud, bribery and money laundering. You can see the guideline here (scroll down a bit to get to it) – and it comes into effect on 1 October 2014.
When the guideline was launched, there was quite a bit of press coverage – and most of it picked up on the fact that this guideline (particularly the fraud bit) places much more emphasis on the impact of the offending on the victim. As the Sentencing Council press release notes: “This new guideline places victim impact at the centre of considerations of what sentence the offender should get. This may mean higher sentences for some offenders compared to the current guideline, particularly where the financial loss is relatively small but the impact on the victim is high. It also aims to ensure that the victim’s vulnerability is given due weight.”
This has started me thinking about whether – when it comes to money laundering – we do enough to remember (and remind our staff about) the victims of laundering. It can be complicated (for instance, if money is confiscated from a drug trafficker, I doubt many people would campaign for it to be returned to the drug buyers), but with money laundering by its very nature placing distance between the crime and the eventual location/form of the money, it can be all too easy to forget that people are being harmed all along the way. There are the victims of the original crime, and those whose accounts are compromised, and those who have to pay more for financial services because the providers have to fund AML requirements, and those who have to supply more information in order to meet those AML requirements, and those who live in countries where public services are under-funded thanks to the pilfering activities of their corrupt leaders – the list goes on.
So to those who claim that money laundering is a victimless crime, just a bit of clever financial jiggery-pokery, I say that nothing could be further from the truth. And the new guideline seems to support this view. Although “harm is initially assessed by the value of the money laundered”, sentencing benches are told that “to complete the assessment of harm, the court should take into account the level of harm associated with the underlying offence”. Moreover, the resulting sentence must then be adjusted for various mitigating and aggravating factors, and among the latter we find “established evidence of community/wider impact”. M’lud, if I may address the court…