The term ‘White-Collar Crime’ encompasses a wide array of charges ranging from bribery and corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and embezzlement that occur in corporate or government settings. White-collar crimes are different to ‘corporate crimes’, as they are committed by an individual (typically against a corporate entity, business or individual) as opposed to being committed by a corporation (against an individual, investor/creditor, member of the public, environment, or government). These crimes are complex and are typically financial in nature. They are typically dealt with in the County Court and involve the examination of expert evidence (forensic accountants are typically employed to substantiate evidence against an accused). Whilst many individuals charged with ‘white-collar’ offences turn to commercial lawyers for advice, it is imperative they seek advice and representation from criminal lawyers, who are experts in defending criminal charges. This article will provide an overview of strategies and tactics commonly utilised when defending against white-collar crimes.

What is white-collar crime?

As has been mentioned, white-collar crime is a category of crime that is typically financial in nature and is conducted by an individual, not a corporation. The most common examples of white-collar crimes include:

  • Fraud
    • Obtain Property by Deception
    • Obtain Financial Advantage by Deception
  • Bribery
  • Tax Evasion
  • Money Laundering
  • Embezzlement

Depending on the nature and seriousness of the allegation, the matter will be investigated by either local police, a government department, or both.

Who investigates white-collar crime?

One of the major distinguishing factors between regular and white-collar crimes is the way in which white collar crimes are investigated and prosecuted. Whilst charges made under the umbrella of white-collar crimes can involve local police, they are usually investigated and prosecuted by government bodies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and even the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC). Depending on the allegation, it is likely that one of these bodies will collaborating with local police to investigate and prosecute the charges.

So, what should you do if you are investigated or charged?

The first thing to do is to engage with an expert criminal lawyer. This is essential, as they can provide preliminary advice prior to police interview and can help navigate the matter from the very start.  Additionally, if you are charged, expert defence lawyers can obtain your instructions about what has happened and help prepare a defence on your behalf.

Defending against white-collar crimes – Fraud Case study

In Victoria, fraud is governed by statute and involves complex fault elements. In accordance with section 81 of the Crimes Act, prosecution must establish that the accused by any deception dishonestly obtained property with the intention of permanently depriving them of it. This is known as ‘obtain property by deception’. The element of ‘deception’ includes use of words or conduct such as lies, false statements (including payslips, bank deposits, financial statements, invoices) or impersonations (such as fake IDs) that are used with the intention of permanently depriving the victim of their property. A similar charge is found in section 82 of the Crimes Act, which involves the same elements but where the accused gains a ‘financial advantage’ by their deceptive conduct. Given the complexities associated with the fault element in fraud cases, running a defence can be a difficult proposition and requires expert criminal lawyers.

The defenses available include that the accused was not the person who committed the offence (false identification), or that they did not have dishonest intention (didn’t intend to deceive the victim), or that they do not intend to deprive the victim of their property (lack of intention all together), or that they were under a mistaken belief as to who owned the property all together. Depending on the circumstances of the case, duress may also be a defence. Here, an accused would argue that they committed the fraud due to an immediate threat of physical harm, to themselves or another, if the act is not done. These defences can be very difficult to establish and as such, it is common for individuals charged with fraud related cases to decide to enter a plea deal. You can read about how these are negotiated here.

How Galbally Parker can help with white-collar crime charges

Ultimately, white-collar crimes are inherently complicated. They involve fault elements that can be hard to defend against, and as such, defences available are limited. It is therefore imperative that if you are charged with a white-collar crime that you seek immediate advice and representation from white-collar crime lawyers, such as those at Galbally Parker.