Deny. Deny


Rich Fraudsters Get off Lightly: SFO

Fraud is the homage that force pays to reason.

- Charles Curtis

Rich, white-collar criminals who steal large amounts of money still seem to get more lenient sentences than poorer criminals, says the Serious Fraud Office.  In its annual report for the year ended in June, SFO director David Bradshaw highlighted several cases that suggested some white-collar criminals were still being treated more leniently than other criminals.

He was not suggesting a deliberate bias, but there was a "subtle influence" that led to light sentences being handed down.  In 2001, Epsom businessman Sunil Bansal faced charges of bribing senior Mobil Oil employees in order to benefit by almost $2 million, Mr Bradshaw said.  During an 18-month investigation and the two years it took to get to trial, Bansal and the two men he bribed denied wrongdoing.

A first trial was called off because of the unavailability of jurors.  Bansal pleaded guilty before a second trial.  "Despite the defendant having denied giving any bribes for almost four years, including pleading not guilty at the aborted trial, the judge praised the defendant for the 'most genuine and committed remorse'," Mr Bradshaw said.  Bansal repaid the money and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment and given leave to apply for home detention.

A year later, he was being sentenced again for selling imported motor vehicles with wound-back odometers.  He pleaded guilty at the last moment after extensive legal challenges to the case against him.  Despite the judge knowing about Bansal's criminal record, he described him as "an otherwise honest businessman" who regretted his actions and sentenced him to six months' and gave him leave to apply for home detention.

"One wonders whether there could be any other offending where a judge would describe a person as 'otherwise honest' when they were appearing in court on their second serious offence."  Mr Bradshaw said last year's trial of the largest case of bribery of a public servant in New Zealand history also highlighted the judiciary's attitude towards white-collar criminals.

Multi-millionaire Hamilton property developer Roger Giles and former Department of Work and Income property manager Grant Griffiths spent years using every legal avenue available to resist bribery charges.  After a 6-week trial, Giles was found guilty of offering bribes and was jailed for three years on corruption charges.  Griffiths also got three years after receiving $639,000 on top of his annual salary of $75,000 in kickbacks for setting up property contracts.  Both men had their sentences reduced for their "otherwise good conduct".

The cases stood in "stark contrast" to that of a low-level customs official who was sent to jail for four years for taking about $200,000 in bribes, despite the fact that he co-operated when caught and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Bradshaw said he did not mean the judges had deliberately favoured successful businessmen.  "However ... there remains in some areas an approach towards white-collar offending that makes the fight against fraud and corruption particularly difficult and encourages white-collar criminals to deny responsibility for their actions for as long as possible, with minimal adverse consequences."- NZPA

Source: 7 October 2004

Source: Norm Bergsma

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