[Book Review] White-Collar Crimes in India: Contemporary Issues and Complexities

A helpful source of legal reference for students and lawyers interested in the sphere of white-collar crime law in India.
White Collar Crimes in India
White Collar Crimes in India

The focus on white-collar crimes as a dynamic and upcoming part of the criminal law jurisprudence in India is relatively recent. Several high profile and highly publicized cases of white-collar crimes that have cropped up in the last three decades in India have resulted in significant judicial and legislative attention being given to prevention and punishment of white-collar crimes.

The Harshad Mehta case, the Satyam case, the Sarada case, the Sahara case, the Vijay Mallya case, the Nirav Modi case, the IL&FS case etc are prominent examples of these. As was observed by the Supreme Court in Ram Narayan Popli v. CBI,

“The cause of the community deserves better treatment at the hands of the Court in the discharge of its judicial functions. The Community or the State is not a persona non grata whose cause may be treated with disdain. The entire community is aggrieved if economic offenders who ruin the economy of the State are not brought to book. A murder may be committed in the heat of moment upon passions being aroused. An economic offence is committed with cool calculation and deliberate design with an eye on personal profit regardless of the consequence to the Community… Unfortunately in the last few years, the country has seen an alarming rise in white-collar crimes which has affected the fibre of the country's economic structure. These cases are nothing but private gain at the cost of public, and lead to economic disaster.”

The Legislature on its part has undertaken significant measures including enacting new statutes and substantially amending (sometimes frequently) existing statutes. This has further resulted in a situation where certain provisions such as those in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 are amended almost on a yearly basis through Finance Acts.

The book ‘White- Collar Crimes in India: Contemporary Issues and Complexities,’ authored by lawyers Susanah Naushad and Mohammed Raiz, and published by Thomson Reuters, seeks to shed light on these and myriad other issues.

The book provides valuable insights into areas of white-collar crime law. As Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra has written in the foreword to the book,

This well-researched book comes at a vital time as there is an increase in criminal litigation, which might be the result of the downturn in the Indian economy on account of the Covid- 19 pandemic. This book covers largely untouched areas, such as the origin of white- collar crime, its interface with the IPC and other special laws such as the stat­utes for corruption, money laundering, companies law and so on.

The book is divided into 3 parts – (I) White-Collar Offences, (II) Procedural Aspects Involved, and (III) Contemporaneous Legal Issues.

The first part of the book acclimatizes the reader with what constitutes white-collar crimes and touches upon the development of this area of criminal law. Important legislation in this area such as the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, Companies Act, 2013 etc are dealt with. Along with highlighting the actual offences that are present in these statutes, the book details the specific investigating agencies, courts and other authorities that exercise jurisdiction and powers under the respective statutes.

The authors also examine issues including fastening reverse burden of proof on the accused and making bail more stringent, provisions that are increasingly becoming the rule rather than the exception in white-collar crime statutes. A notable recent example concerning this aspect are the amendments to Section 45 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 by the Finance Acts of 2018 and 2019, which amendments appear to have been intended to overcome the striking down of Section 45 in Nikesh Tarachand Shah v. Union of India.

The second part of the book gives an overview of the procedural aspects involved in criminal law. Several foundational concepts of general criminal law, which apply equally to white-collar crimes as much as other crimes, are dealt with in this part. The explanation of procedural aspects helps the reader better appreciate the substantive legal aspects present in the book too.

The third part of the book deals with complex and nuanced issues in the sphere of white-collar crimes. Several contemporary and, at times, contentious topics are analysed by the authors, including cross-border criminal investigations, internal investigations by body corporates etc. In the chapter titled ‘Corporate Criminal Liability,’ the authors elaborate on the jurisprudential development of criminal liability of corporates in other common law jurisdictions, culminating in a succinct analysis of landmark cases in India such as Standard Chartered Bank v. Directorate of Enforcement, Iridium India Telecom v. Motorola Inc, and Sunil Bharti Mittal v. CBI.

The section dealing with contemporaneous legal issues is particularly relevant with respect to white-collar crime law in today’s time, considering that there is significant ambiguity on the scope and extent of some of the legal provisions present in the statutes, given the lack of judicial guidance and the frequent amendments made to these statutes.

Overall, the manner in which the authors bring together a range of topics that span across several legislations under one book is commendable and makes for an engaging read. It is a helpful source of legal reference for students and lawyers interested in the sphere of white-collar crime law in India.

The authors of the book are Susannah Naushad and Mohammad Raiz, dispute resolution lawyers specializing in white collar crimes.

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