The Varied Nature of Forensic Accounting
Independent forensic accounting expertise assists with a multitude of different financial disputes. These range from criminal prosecutions to corporate disputes. I am currently assisting the police with theft of crypto currency, promotion of fraudulent investment schemes and the exploitation of vulnerable persons. I am helping the executor of her mother’s estate to trace missing assets and currently challenging allegations of tax evasion by HMRC in a case involving VAT.
I specialise in criminal fraud, money laundering and corporate disputes. Other forensic accountants might specialise in personal injury claims and valuing family businesses during matrimonial disputes. Wherever people argue over money, the forensic accountant is poised to help unravel the complicated financial mess so that everybody can understand what is happening and hopefully reach a rational outcome.
How Independent Forensic Accounting Can Help
Very often I am instructed by a criminal defence lawyer to challenge an expert forensic accounting report prepared on behalf of the prosecution. Sometimes I prepare these reports for the Crown myself. Sometimes they are written by my fellow independent forensic accountants. However, sometimes they are written by accountants employed full time by the regulators.
I question whether an accountant, however well qualified and experienced, can be truly independent when working full time for the authorities. Frequently I will encounter a prosecution report that seeks to fit a limited amount of evidence to the crime. It should be the other way round – the evidence must be viewed separately. This means that all the evidence must be considered. Is it enough, is it relevant? This includes information that supports a crime, but also the information that undermines the prosecution’s case.
In practical terms, this means that an independent appraisal will include examination of all the circumstances, including those that may not have been considered by the Crown. An example of this is when a Proceeds of Crime confiscation makes assumptions about unidentified income into a bank account without examining in detail a defendant’s business records. One of the most frequent requests that I make when instructed to challenge a S16 Statement of Information by a defence lawyer is for business records that have been ignored by the prosecution.
Independence Means Acting For Both Sides
Criminal litigation is a highly adversarial activity, with one party never trusting a word said by the other. In the past I conducted academic research promoting independent assistance to the Criminal Court in fraud trials that ended up as a major part of my dissertation for a Masters Degree in Fraud Management. The issue had been voiced by some commentators as a method for streamlining the sometimes unwieldy fraud trials, in particular those that the Serious Fraud Office were habitually losing. If an independent appraisal by a fraud expert could assist, surely this would be a good thing? However, the resistance seemed to come mostly from the lawyers (on both sides) who seem happy with their battlegrounds, however messy and expensive.
Yet I do act for both sides, albeit in different cases. I act for both the prosecution and the defence in roughly equal measures. I am not here to try and get a fantastic result for whoever instructs me, but to perform a fair appraisal of the financial evidence and present my findings of complex financial matters in a way that everybody can understand.
So Forensic Accounting Independence Is Not So Important?
Not a chance! The more independent a forensic accounting expert is the more credible and therefore valuable the report that he presents and the evidence he may have to give in Court.