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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006, 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK
UK police 'to tackle corruption'
International Development Secretary Hilary Benn
Hilary Benn is to take responsibility for the fight against corruption
The UK is to set up a police task force to tackle international corruption, the government has announced.

The unit, made up of officers from London's Metropolitan and City of London police forces, will focus on bribery and money laundering.

It will tackle allegations involving UK firms and the UK's financial system.

International Development Secretary Hilary Benn is to be "ministerial champion for international corruption", Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

The importance of fighting corruption in order to improve economic development was a key theme in the work of Mr Blair's Africa Commission, which reported in 2005.

Its significance was reiterated in last year's G8 summit declarations on development.

Division of labour

The Department for International Development (DfID) and the police have been discussing the initiative for much of this year.

Details of exactly how the new task force will be constructed are unlikely to appear before a government "corruption action plan" appears later this year.

But senior police officers agree that the Met will focus on the laundering of corruption proceeds in the UK, while the City of London force takes the lead on investigating the activities of UK firms overseas.

"We'll be targeting the money and taking it off them, using the Proceeds of Crime Act," said Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer, who leads the Met's Economic and Specialist Crime Unit.

His officers, he said, would build on work already under way - most recently with Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission - but with the advantage of dedicated resources.

Meanwhile, about 10 officers from the City of London Police - led by a superintendent - are likely to focus on investigating allegations of corruption which go before a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) vetting panel.

"There has been demand from the SFO for us to facilitate the investigations," said Det Ch Supt Steve Wilmott, who leads the force's Economic Crime Division.

"But we didn't have the resources to deal with it."

No prosecutions

Till now, critics have argued that the UK has lagged other industrialised countries in dealing with corruption.

The UK is a signatory to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's anti-bribery convention and the UN's Convention Against Corruption - but campaigners say its "national contact point", the first port of call for bribery allegations, is understaffed.

The UK has a responsibility to tackle money laundering and bribery where it stems from our own shores
Tony Blair

Some 35 overseas bribery cases are being assessed by the Serious Fraud Office prior to possible investigation and 14 domestic investigations are under way.

But unlike elsewhere, the signing of the convention has yet to result in prosecutions of companies or individuals.

"Other countries are more advanced in dealing with these things," Det Ch Supt Wilmott said.

"There have been noises about wanting a more level playing field. The UK has not done as much proactively."

And while Switzerland has paid back hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly stolen from Nigeria and laundered by the late dictator, Sani Abacha, the UK - which has played host to more than $1bn - has yet to follow suit.

A report by MPs from the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group published earlier this year said the government was lacking "political will at the highest level".


The task force, and Mr Benn's additional responsibilities, form the heart of the government's response to the report.

In the response, ministers said legislation needed to be revised to keep up with the realities of modern corruption - but did not set a timetable for doing so.

Mr Blair has always insisted that the issue is high on his development agenda.

"The UK has a responsibility to tackle money laundering and bribery where it stems from our own shores, and to support developing countries in fighting corruption," he said.

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