My work as a forensic accountant means that I undertake fraud and financial investigations that result in reports that are presented to the Court and supported by me giving expert oral evidence in many cases.
When I work as an expert accountant in criminal defence matters, my counterpart working for the Crown is often an “Accredited Financial Investigator”. However, although our roles may be perceived to be similar (albeit on opposite sides), as a result of our different experience, training and qualifications our respective inputs into a case can be quite different.
The credentials of an Accredited Financial Investigator
According to the National Crime Agency, who provides training for Accredited Financial Investigators, their courses are open to permanent staff employed by organisations empowered to use provisions contained within the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. This includes police officers and employees from various different regulatory agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the Financial Conduct Authority. The training covers areas of financial intelligence, investigation and confiscation, and is intended to equip an officer or employee with the skills needed to put together the likes of a Section 16 Statement of Information in a confiscation case.
Candidates for accredited financial investigation training need to have good written, literacy and numeracy skills. However, it is my observation in practice that my counterparts are drawn from the ranks of serving officers or are civilian employees sometimes having little or no accountancy experience.
Different credentials of an expert accounting witness
On the other hand, as an independent forensic accountant I am often called upon to provide an expert opinion concerning a case summary or statement prepared by an accredited financial investigator. Like my colleagues in this business, I must be a credible witness and this means having recognised accountancy and business qualifications and experience in business matters. Obviously I must also have similar legal and investigative skills as the accredited investigators.
In my view, the accredited financial investigators trained and utilised by the Crown undertake a valuable job, investigating and putting together cases against the criminals, who are intent on abusing the system. I consider my role to be an independent auditor of their work.
In this respect, it is not appropriate to compare the role of the expert accountant and the accredited financial investigator. The two are different, and it is not the word of one against the other – even in the adversarial criminal justice system. However, agreements can be made between the two to narrow differences ensuring that the Court is able to reach a decision more easily.
Sometimes I will be asked to prepare an expert report for the prosecutors, even though I am not specifically an “Accredited Financial Investigator”. These are occasions where the officers may have investigated the case, but have the forethought to realise that their work will come under the scrutiny of a financial expert on behalf of the defence. In these instances they want to ensure that their case is supported robustly by expert accounting evidence, and is strong enough to succeed in court. I was heartened recently to be asked by an officer from the Metropolitan Police Force to review the evidence gathered in a substantial investigation to “see if they were barking up the wrong tree” (the officers own words). As it happened, there were a lot of dodgy issues but none that merited the hoped for £100 million money laundering case! Indeed, it seemed that the problems merited hearing in the civil courts and were not really criminal matters at all.
Probably the biggest difference between my role as an expert accountant and that of the Crown’s Financial Investigators is the time each spends on the case. My work involves an appraisal, and sometimes an investigation, that may typically take five or ten days of detailed work to examine documents and prepare a report. The Crown’s investigator may have been working solely on a particular case for months and in some cases for years. Whereas I may look at a different case every week, to the Accredited Financial Investigator a case reaching Court can sometimes seem like the end of a lifelong task! It is no wonder that there can sometimes be a personal involvement by these officers, and why an impartial appraisal and remote point of view by an expert accountant is essential.