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‘Fraud’ is a word that people find easier to use than to define. Partly for this reason, it is difficult for lawyers to summarise the way in which their particular jurisdictions deal with it. Some of the sources of their laws will be domestic and will have evolved over time. Others will be recent international conventions where regard must be had to the decisions of other jurisdictions.
But these difficulties aside, the problems that ‘fraud’ generates pose unique challenges for the legal system of any country. Lawyers have been mulling over the rights and wrongs of solutions to the problems that fraud presents for centuries. They will never stop doing so. The internationalisation of fraud in the past 40 years or so, however, has meant that they argue about these problems not only with lawyers of their own country, but also with lawyers from other jurisdictions. Rarely nowadays will a fraudster leave the proceeds of fraud in the jurisdiction in which they were stolen. The 1980s and early 1990s saw quite pronounced attempts by fraudsters to ‘arbitrage’ the various attitudes and priorities of different jurisdictions to retain what they had taken. Perhaps the highest-profile example of this was the use of jurisdictions in which banking secrecy was a priority as a conduit to which the proceeds of fraud would be transmitted. Another well-known strategy was the use of corporate devices and trusts as a means of sheltering assets from those who deserved to retrieve them.
A number of factors have served to make this more difficult. The growth of international conventions for the harmonisation of laws and enforcement of judgments is clearly one. Perhaps more notable, however, has been the international impetus to curb money laundering through criminal sanctions. These have, however, been first steps, albeit comparatively successful ones. There is still a huge amount to be done.