Civil or criminal proceedings for serious fraud?
Where loss has already been sustained however, regulators are showing a determination to pursue and prosecute those responsible, with sentences reflecting the criminal courts’ view of the seriousness of these offences. A recent case development shows that where scammers have been successfully prosecuted, The Pension Regulator (TPR) will also make use of its power to seek post-conviction orders such as confiscation orders to further deter criminal behaviour in this sphere.
Accountant Roger William Bessent, after receiving the first immediate custodial sentence arising from a prosecution brought by TPR last March, has now been ordered to pay back over a quarter of a million pounds following his conviction for defrauding a pension scheme.
Mr Bessent was a trustee and administrator of Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme (FRBS), from which he transferred money into businesses he part-owned and which were run by him, his family and his client.
The Insolvency Service and TPR both investigated and then prosecuted Mr Bessent, which resulted in his guilty pleas to multiple counts of fraud, making prohibited employer–related investments (ERI) and acting as a director while disqualified. He was sentenced on 29 March 2019 to 39 months in custody.
On 28 October 2020 Mr Bessent was ordered to repay £274,733 in three months and to hand over the full balance of his cash accounts (amounting to just under £10,000) within a week. If he fails to meet the three month deadline this will result in a 30 month extension of his sentence and the amount owed will increase with interest. The majority of the award will be payable to the FRBS with the remainder going to the Home Office as part of their Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme (ARIS).
TPR regulates work-based pension schemes in the UK and brings proceedings in order to protect members’ benefits and promote the good administration of work-based pension schemes.
Over the last few years the government has been considering introducing major changes to the way pension schemes are run. TPR currently has a range of regulatory and enforcement actions at their disposal including:
The Pension Schemes Bill 2019-21 was introduced to Parliament in January 2020 setting out extended powers for TPR to tackle pension fraud. The proposals include new criminal offences and non-criminal sanctions with the limit on financial penalties being increased to £1 million.
The threat of a pension fraud enforcement action can cause concern where an investigation may be imminent or underway, or where assets have been seized, restrained or frozen by the civil or criminal courts. Our team is highly experienced in providing strategic and tactical advice to individuals and corporations in respect of proceeds of crime matters in relation to such matters.
For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.
Anna Holmes is an Associate in our Criminal Litigation team. She is an experienced criminal law practitioner who has represented clients in respect of a wide range of offences and has extensive experience in dealing with vulnerable clients.
Rosie Gibson is a trainee solicitor currently in the Criminal Litigation team. She joined Kingsley Napley in 2016 as a paralegal in the Regulatory department. She subsequently worked in the Criminal Litigation department before starting as a trainee in September 2019.
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