International conspiracies to import and supply drugs, firearms and money laundering – Narita Bahra QC & Hannah Thomas instructed to defend
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Narita has extensive experience in complex fraud and money laundering cases. She is noted for handling fraud cases with an international dimension, particularly in South East Asia. Narita excels at distilling and explaining complex factual matrices to both clients and juries in a concise and clear manner.
Narita’s areas of expertise include anti-competitive conduct (cartels, market abuse, insider dealing); civil/commercial fraud; fraudulent trading; mortgage fraud; money laundering; revenue fraud; VAT/MTIC fraud.
Narita is recognised as having vast and practical knowledge of the increasing prosecutions involving the Hawala banking system (an alternative unregulated remittance system running in parallel with the established regulated banking system). She is currently instructed as Queen’s Counsel in a case which raises Hawala as a defence (2019). Narita also has an excellent knowledge of ancillary proceedings, such as criminal conﬁscation, asset forfeiture and restraint law.
Increasingly instructed in quasi-criminal and regulatory proceedings, she represents professionals such as accountants, ﬁnancial advisers and solicitors, as well as senior executives facing charges relating to dishonesty or corruption in business practices.
R v S (2019)
Exposed fundamental disclosure failings which results in the collapse of a major carbon credits and diamond prosecution.
This was a prosecution brought against 8 defendants for an alleged fraud involving the sale of carbon credits for the purposes of investment. The defendants asserted that they believed that there was a viable market for carbon credits and that they believed that the value of the credits would rise.
The trial collapsed as a result of the prosecution’s reliance on a witness called Andrew Ager. The prosecution had asserted that Mr. Ager was an expert in the carbon credits market and had relied upon him to secure convictions in over 20 trials. Mr. Ager had repeatedly told juries that, amongst other things, that there was no secondary market in the sale of VER carbon credits.
In this case, Narita identified and instructed Dr. Marius Cristian Frunza as an expert for the defence. Dr. Frunza holds a PhD from Sorbonne University and lectures extensively in respect of the carbon credit markets. Mr. Ager improperly attempted to dissuade Dr. Frunza from giving evidence. This resulted in the Narita’s defense team applying to cross-examine Mr. Ager in a voir dire before he was permitted to give evidence to the jury.
During the course of that cross-examination, the following evidence was elicited:
Prior to Mr. Ager giving evidence, the defence had made targeted disclosure requests which revealed that the officers in the case had taken no notes of their meetings with Mr. Ager and no record of the material that they had provided to him. In light of Mr. Ager’s admissions, it was plain that his evidence was incapable of any independent review, quite apart from his evident unsuitability as an expert witness. At the conclusion of the voir dire the prosecution confirmed that they abandoned Mr. Ager and that he had been removed from the National Crime Agency’s list of approved experts. The trial judge commented that Mr. Ager should never be permitted to give expert evidence again.
The defence team then sought a voir dire of the officers in the case and lawyers from the CPS in order to establish the extent of the disclosure failures. This resulted in the prosecution disclosing that the CPS and the police had been in possession of material that was potentially damaging to another prosecution expert called, Peter Buckie. Mr. Buckie had given evidence before the jury in respect of diamond sales prior to the voir dire of Mr. Ager. The evidence in respect of Mr. Buckie revealed that he had been abandoned as a prosecution witness in 2013 as a result of allegations of misconduct. That evidence did not appear on any prosecution disclosure schedule and was hidden from the defence until 28 May 2019, when it was revealed, for the first time, minutes before the prosecution offered no evidence and abandoned the case thereby avoiding the officers and CPS lawyers being subjected to cross-examination.
As a result of the cross-examination of Mr. Ager, the safety of the convictions in every previous carbon credits prosecution is now in question. Furthermore, it is apparent that there are systemic failures within the investigation and disclosure processes at City of London Police that are likely to impact upon all prosecutions undertaken in the last eight years.
R v J (2019)
Narita Bahra QC successfully defended in an International £11 million money laundering trial, where the defence advanced was Hawala Banking. The defence relied upon Hawala expert evidence. It was asserted that the client had no knowledge or suspicion that money laundering was taking place and that the transactions had the appearance of genuine Hawala transfers, please read here.
R v C (2019)
The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (‘DBEIS’) brought a criminal prosecution against their client who had run an initially successful company, which then went into liquidation, owing creditors in the region of £2.9m.
The DBEIS is the Government department responsible for economic growth, incorporating business, industrial strategy, science, innovation, energy, and climate change. Since January 2017, criminal prosecutions have been conducted by the Insolvency Service, an executive agency of DBEIS.
The prosecution in this case, brought proceedings under the Insolvency Act 1986 alleging 1) the falsification of company books and 2) misconduct during the course of the winding-up of the company.
The Insolvency Service criminal enforcement team identifies and prosecutes fraud in companies by prosecuting breaches of Insolvency and Company Law.
Once DBEIS accept a complaint about alleged criminality by a bankrupt or relating to the affairs of a limited company, Investigating Officers will conduct a criminal investigation – gathering evidence and taking witness statements – or may refer the case to other regulatory agencies for enforcement.
Individuals under investigation will usually be invited to an interview under caution. They are entitled to legal representation.
A DBEIS lawyer then applies the Code for Crown Prosecutors and assess whether there is enough evidence against the individual to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and, if so, whether it is in the public interest for the prosecution to be brought.
If DBEIS is successful, save for exceptional circumstances, a confiscation order (under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002) and a director’s disqualification order (under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986) will usually follow a conviction.
Public scrutiny of government agencies’ apparent ‘light-touch’ regulation of white-collar offending means there is an increasing pressure on government agencies to bring criminal prosecutions. According to DBEIS’s figures, 97 individuals were successfully prosecuted between April 2016 and March 2017, with 63 of those receiving custodial sentences.
R v K
Narita was instructed to defend an employee of Royal Mail Revenue Protection Department who was alleged to have assisted a Company to defraud the Royal Mail of approximately £33 million pounds of revenue fraud and of attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The prosecution relied in the main upon a witness, the owner and controlling mind of the Company which had perpetrated the fraud, who gave Queen’s Evidence to seek to secure convictions against four Royal Mail employees.
Private prosecutions are an extremely valuable power for Royal Mail, who have confirmed their intention to crack down and pursue offenders via Private prosecutions instead of traditional reliance on the Crown Prosecution Service.
Private prosecutions can be commenced by any private individual, or entity who/which is not acting on behalf of the police or other prosecuting authority.
The right to bring private prosecutions is preserved by section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act (POA) 1985. There are, however, some limitations:
Defending in a private prosecution requires knowledge, at the outset, of what features of a private prosecution a client may be able to challenge,
It is only if the prosecuting legal team has acted with the required professionalism and independence that the private prosecution proceeds to trial.
The Crown sought to rely on a combination of CCTV footage, cell site, digital media and telephone evidence to secure a conviction against the client.
At trial, at the close of the prosecution case, Narita and Tom succeeded in persuading the Prosecution and the Judge that there was no case to answer against their client on the charges faced; not guilty verdicts were therefore received from the Jury.
R v P – Leading 2 Juniors
Narita was instructed to defend a complex and unusual joint HMRC and Police investigation in which it was alleged that tax evasion emanated from mobile phone theft through companies. This involved consideration of a vast amount of evidence and complex issues of taxation law as well as the Crown Court’s jurisdiction to interfere with and decide matters that ordinarily fall solely to be determined by the First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber).
Narita was successful in challenging the prosecution’s dogged approach which emanated from growing pressure to probe that the HMRC and Police had workable strategies in place to stamp out evasion.
The Prosecution alleged the client had masterminded fraud, theft and tax evasion by taking advantage of lacuna in the Value Added Tax Act 1994.
Narita’s team worked together to assimilate and consolidate complex taxation issues of relevance to the client’s defence so that they could be followed by a lay jury.
R v S
The client was a businessman, charged alongside ten co-defendants with being knowingly involved in a conspiracy to evade excise duty on diesel fuel on a large national scale. The HMRC investigation of these allegations spanned over four years. Laundering involved red diesel, meant for use by agricultural and other off-road vehicles.
The prosecution alleged that red diesel was stolen in huge quantities and then a variety of methods were deployed to launder, eradicate the red dye and other chemical markers. The removal of the colour results in it looking to the untrained eye as regular diesel. It was alleged that it was sold on businesses who were willing to turn a blind eye. Plants were uncovered in mainland Britain and officials had intercepted illegal shipments.
The case collapsed due to disclosure failings.
R v M
Prosecution alleged client was involved in laundering monies for the criminal underworld. Narita’s written advocacy succeeded in maneuvering the prosecution into a position where they decided to offer no evidence on the main conspiracy to money launder offence, class A drug offences and a substantive money laundering allegation at the outset of the case. This enabled the defence to severe the client and her husband from the four co-defendants and thereby removing any links or associations with drugs. Evidence of class B drugs found at co-defendant’s premises were also successfully argued to be inadmissible.
R v M
The prosecution alleged the client was one of three leaders in this serious organised eight handed conspiracy. The organisation unwittingly used Easyworld International Money Exchange Bureaus to launder in excess of £78 million. The police uncovered a factory based in London at which the funds were being laundered.
The case involved looking carefully at the stringent regulation of money exchange bureaus imposed by the Money Laundering Regulations. The HMRC made it clear that the onus now fell upon businesses at risk to implement anti-money laundering measures based on a ‘risk-based’ approach and assessment.
Narita successfully negotiated with the Crown to limit the client’s accepted involvement to a figure below £1.5 million.
R v Z
This cybercrime investigation into corruption across the banking industry resulted in the arrest of the client who was a Barclay’s Banker in the Cyber Fraud operation Kadenza. The Crown alleged the client had opened 144 fraudulent accounts enabling in excess of three million pounds to be laundered, as well as passing on sensitive details to those committing the Cyber Fraud (£113 million) in operation Kadenza.
Lengthy written and oral advocacy resulted in the prosecution offering no evidence on the two substantive conspiracies. The Court held it was not persuaded that the Prosecution could properly substantiate the tenuous link between the co-conspirators and the client.
The client pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering limiting his involvement to £1.5 million pounds. No confiscation proceedings were pursued.
R v A
Instructed to represent a Director in a European Union Match Funding Conspiracy to Defraud in excess of a million pounds. The client, along with her brother and his former Director, were accused of having conspired to commit fraud against the Home Office by preparing paperwork to demonstrate implementation of learning activities for third country nationals to assist in integrating them into the community for which the Home Office would provide grants to facilitate those activities. The client denied having conspired to commit fraud against the Home Office.
The case was significant and politically sensitive, in light of the fact that at the time that the Prosecution alleged the offences occurred, Theresa May was the Home Secretary which oversaw the financial aid that was provided. Client was the only defendant acquitted.
R v K
Represented the first defendant in an alleged joint enterprise to flood the UK with millions of illegal cigarettes and evasion of duty and VAT in excess of one million pounds. The Crown alleged client played a leading role in the logistics and distribution of the UK arm of the criminal operation. It was alleged that the smuggled cigarettes emanated from Russia and Eastern Europe, travelling via Polish transportation. Unusually the HMRC were able to assert that this was an exceptional case as they had arrested the main players in this International Crime Ring. HMRC investigators uncovered the smuggling ring after working closely with UK Border Force and the National Crime Agency. Client was the only defendant alleged to have operated in a leading role who was acquitted post trial.
R v S
Client was a Solicitor arrested as part of an international money laundering ring who made in excess of 113 million pounds, conducting one of Britain’s largest cyber scams cold-calling bank customers. 47 million pounds was recovered. The outstanding 66 million pounds was believed to have been laundered from the UK to Dubai and Pakistan. Arrests resulted after the police mounted the most sophisticated cyber-surveillance operation to date. 750 accountants and solicitors were targeted by the ring.
Client was the only defendant to receive a suspended sentence.
R v G
Client acquitted of Money Laundering in excess of £500 000. Unusually, Narita was instructed three years post charge and after four previous defence teams had fail to grasp the complex issues in the case. Deploying my understanding of Islamic Banking (Sharia compliant ﬁnance) and instructing a Forensic Accountant successfully enabled the jury to understand and identify gaps in the complex prosecution case.
R v B
Client was the Personal Assistant to Barbara Broccoli (owner of James Bond empire) and employee of EON Enterprises Limited. Client was acquitted of three counts of fraud and three counts of theft. Narita identified significant prosecution disclosure failings which damaged the integrity of the three-year investigation. Prosecution offered no evidence on day one of the trial.
R v S
Secured an acquittal for client in the “Tesco Cash for Crash” Insurance fraud conspiracy. Client was one of twenty-one defendants facing trial. The Prosecution alleged that the defendants had targeted Tesco and car insurance firms by mounting faked or bogus accidents resulting in fraudulent claims. They further alleged that the defendants exaggerated their injuries in order to claim personal Injury compensation and other costs. Narita’s forensic detailed cross-examination of the prosecution medical experts was damning for the Crown’s case. All defendants were acquitted.
R v Shah
Defended in an eight-handed conspiracy to commit multi million pound Home Office visa fraud. The fraud emanated from hiding assets via money loops to misuse the visa application system. The case involved cross-examination of forensic accountants. Narita prevented the Crown from being permitted to allow additional counts at the outset of the trial. Successfully defended the Crown’s application to voluntary bill additional charges in the High Court. This case involved a series of public interest immunity applications.
R v C (2015)
Client was the ﬁrst defendant in a nineteen-handed conspiracy to commit fraud. The case related to abusing consumer protection oﬀered by banks and credit card companies. The Crown alleged the client was the orchestrator and puppeteer of the conspiracy. Undertook strategic and tactical decisions regarding the defence and presentation of the case. Cross-examination of forensic accountants and expert witnesses was necessary.
R v S
Instructed in what was described by the Serious Organised Crime Agency as, “The largest importation of heroin into the United Kingdom from the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan and Afghanistan”. The client was described as “an international drug smuggler of the highest order”. The street value of the drugs was in excess of 103.2 million pounds and money-laundering allegations against the client were valued at 12 million pounds. A Hawala banking defence was advanced at trial which explained the client’s ﬁnancial aﬀairs represented legitimate ﬁnancial transactions. Narita worked very closely with the expert witnesses who conceded they were dealing with novel issues of banking law.
R v S
This ten defendant case involved a conspiracy to defraud the Oxfordshire Police and insurance companies. The Prosecution unusually oﬀered no evidence against the client at the conclusion of her evidence in chief. The judge ruled that “the trial for all other co-defendants would continue. This unusual outcome was solely as a result of Miss Bahra’s dogged and skillful approach to disclosure”.
R v Poole
Client was the ﬁnance director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra charged with fraud in excess of 2.3 million pounds.
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