If you have been arrested in relation to a fraud allegation then it will undoubtedly be one of the most traumatic experiences of your life. If you have never been arrested or been involved with the law then it will seem a strange and bewildering process.
If you are under investigation for a serious fraud allegation then it is imperative that you get expert legal advice from the very first stages of the case against you. This will usually mean from the moment you are arrested or are informed there is an investigation into you or your business.
The police and prosecuting authorities such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have extensive powers to investigate allegations of fraud. Before a suspect is arrested they would have carried out many hours of investigation. They would often have already applied to the court for something called a “restraint order”. This order will usually be served on a defendant when they are first notified about the criminal investigation. The purpose of the restraint order will be to prevent a defendant from moving any assets or money after they have been notified of an investigation.
If you have been issued with a restraint order then you have a right to apply to have the terms varied or have the whole order discharged. Usually the order will secure all of a defendant’s assets and will only make minimal provisions for living expenses. Your criminal solicitor should be able to apply to the Court to make sure that you are able to meet all your day to day costs so that your life is liveable whilst the case against you proceeds.
If you are charged with Fraud or Money laundering then the case against you will usually be heard in the Crown Court. All complex and serious allegations are heard in the Crown Court.
If you are charged, and your case goes to the Crown Court, you will be entitled to representation under legal aid by a solicitor and barrister. If your case is especially serious you will be entitled to be represented by a solicitor and two barristers – if your case is of the most serious nature one of those barrister will be a Queens Counsel (QC or commonly known as a Silk). A QC is a leading court room advocate who will have many years of experience in the higher courts defending or prosecuting the most serious allegations.
If you have assets or an income you may be required to make a contribution to your legal aid. This contribution is refundable if you are acquitted. If you are convicted the government will seek reimbursement of the full costs of your defence if you have assets over a certain level.
Further, if you are convicted of fraud and money laundering then the Court may order an enquiry into where the money has gone. This is called “confiscation proceedings”. Confiscation proceedings will be sought by the prosecution where they allege that a suspect has benefited from their criminal conduct. Along with identifying various assets and bank accounts the prosecution may also allege that certain assets and cash have been hidden. The prosecution may seek to allege that the amount they can prove is only a small amount of a suspect’s actual benefit and that in fact there are substantial assets hidden away. If the Court orders that there are “hidden assets” a defendant becomes liable for this amount. If confiscation orders are not paid, and it cannot be shown by your defence team that you do not have the means to pay, then a Court has the power to order you to prison. The period of imprisonment varies according to the amount stated in the confiscation order; the larger the amount the longer the default period in prison. Even after serving the default sentence, defendants are still civilly liable for the outstanding debt.
Given the powers the government has at its disposable and the serous consequences that can occur on conviction for money laundering or fraud, it is imperative that you seek expert advice from an experienced fraud defence solicitor from the earliest stages of your case.
Not all criminal defence lawyers will have experience of defending in complex fraud allegations. Your solicitor will need to spend time taking your detailed instructions, examining the evidence and preparing your case for trial. If you currently have a solicitor but do not have confidence in the away you are being represented you have the right to change your solicitor.