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David MarchantEditor at OffshoreAlert
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UK's Operation Rico turned out to be Operation PR

October 30, 2016 by David Marchant

I long ago realized the United Kingdom is spectacularly ineffective at holding financial criminals accountable for their actions due to a mixture of incompetence, laziness, corruption, lack of resources, a poor judicial system, and a general fondness for non-violent crooks among jurors and citizens in general.

My contempt, however, reached an all-time low when I recently attempted to follow up one of the UK's most high-profile financial investigations of recent years, a boiler room clampdown known as 'Operation Rico'.

In February, 2014, it was breathlessly announced in a flurry of press releases and news stories that 110 people had been arrested in Spain (84), the UK (20), Serbia (4) and the US (2) in raids on 35 offices and private addresses. At least 40 London police officers flew to Spain to participate in the raids, a sign that many of the perpetrators and victims of the investment frauds being sold to the public from the boiler rooms were British.

The City of London Police boasted how it had "coordinated the strikes" with Spain's Policia Nacional, adding that Operation Rico was an "unprecedented international police operation" and "our most important investigation ever". It was further described as "a milestone for the new National Crime Agency", which helped to plan and execute the raids. The NCA put out its own press release in which its Deputy Director of Economic Crime Command, Stephanie Jeavons, was quoted as saying the NCA would be "relentless" in "putting these criminals out of business".

The reality that has unfurled in the ensuing 32 months however suggests that Operation Rico was little more than Operation PR.

Of the 110 people who were arrested in the raids on February 28th, 2014, I can find evidence that only four were convicted of any crimes and those convictions all took place in the US, whose role in Operation Rico was minimal. The US arrested two of its citizens in Texas and arranged for two more who had been arrested in Spain to be sent to the US, where all four were promptly tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years for fraud and money laundering and ordered to pay restitution totaling $6.9 million. Arrests to sentencing took just 27 months.

The main participants, Spain and the UK, don't seem to have prosecuted or convicted anyone. My research to check this went the way I expect any inquiry to British authorities to go. It was unproductive and farcical, beginning with a call to the UK National Crime Agency's main telephone number to ask to speak with Stephanie Jeavons. Not only was I not put through to her, the employee who answered the phone said he could neither confirm nor deny whether anyone with that name even worked there, citing security issues, persisting with this nonsense even after I said I already knew she was one of its senior officers because she has been quoted in press releases that were widely distributed to the general public by … er … the NCA itself and which are still available on the NCA's own website.

My mood didn't improve when I tried the City of London Police, whose 'Media and Communications Officer' Adam French said he was prohibited from helping me when I tried to confirm something as simple as the date of birth and full name of one of the British nationals arrested in Spain, and then didn't bother responding to questions that I subsequently emailed him asking, among other things, how many people, if any, had been charged and/or convicted in the UK as a result of Operation Rico and whether the UK had, like the US, arranged for the repatriation, through the extradition process, of any of its citizens from Spain so they could stand trial.

Database searches by OffshoreAlert and French's silence suggest that, remarkably, the City of London's conviction tally from its self-described "most important investigation ever" is precisely zero.

With a track record like that, British investment fraudsters operating in Marbella and other exotic foreign places can collectively enjoy their Strawberry Daiquiris and caviar, instead of choking on them. They have the added benefit of using Britain's crime-friendly defamation laws to deter journalists from even writing about the activities that British law enforcement fail to prosecute. When it comes to combating global investment fraud, the UK is part of the problem, not the solution.

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