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Covert Money Laundering Investigation Unlawful

Money laundering is a scourge and investigating authorities enjoy wide powers to tackle it. However, in one case, a tribunal has ruled that the National Crime Agency (NCA) went too far in installing covert listening devices on business premises.

The NCA believed that occupiers of the premises were involved in laundering the proceeds of organised crime. It obtained authorisation from magistrates under the Police Act 1997 to install the listening devices, which were put in place whilst some of the occupiers were under arrest and being interviewed.

In upholding complaints brought by five of the occupiers and quashing the authorisation, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) found that the NCA had breached its duty of candour in failing to disclose certain matters to the magistrates. In particular, the magistrates were not told that the surveillance operation was driven by the hope that the occupiers would betray themselves in recorded conversations prompted by their arrest and interview under caution.

There was also a failure to inform the magistrates of the likelihood that the listening devices would capture information which was subject to legal professional privilege. The IPT found that, had the magistrates been given all the information that they should have been, the same authorisation would not have been granted.