“One of the fields of law in which Sorainen provides assistance to clients is criminal law. In this field in 2023, our team of criminal law experts mainly provided legal assistance in cases of possible legalisation of the proceeds of crime, tax evasion, or violations of sanctions,” comments head of Corporate Crime practice in Latvia Dr Violeta Zeppa-Priedīte.
As a result of everyday events, clients are also faced with other manifestations of crimes. Although these seem like unconnected invasions of privacy, in fact they are to business events. Therefore, we also provided assistance to clients who have become victims of persecution, insults to honour and dignity, or unfair competition.
In the field of criminal law, our approach is not just about responding to potential violations of the law. We see prevention as being equally as being equally important, and this can be promoted through education and ensuring compliance. In order to achieve this, we help clients with the preparation and implementation of internal regulatory acts, in addition to promoting education of clients and cooperation partners, as well as ourselves, regarding the latest developments in the field.
Below is a summary of what has been achieved in 2023 in selected case categories.
Legalisation of proceeds of crime (AML)
In the business environment, the topic of AML is typically related to the assumptions of law enforcement authorities that funds and properties of illegal origin are used in the operation of companies, which are injected into the business in various ways, hiding their true origin.
AML is a subject that has been topical in Latvia for several years, and 2023 was no exception. In general, these cases are characterised by being related to tax evasion, corruption, violations against the natural environment, fraud, or commercial bribery. Thus, assisting clients is a joint effort by criminal law lawyers, and experts in tax and customs, finance and banking, and environmental and commercial law.
The involvement of various experts in these matters is particularly important, as we often assist clients with complex and multi-jurisdictional businesses. Such businesses, although modern and natural by commercial standards, are often incomprehensible to third parties and therefore suspicious.
AML is often associated with suspected tax fraud. In this respect, we have encountered a debatable understanding of the content and practical application of the principle of ne bis in idem, or the prohibition of double jeopardy.
Criminal liability for violations of sanctions has been provided for in the Criminal law for several decades. It has gained practical relevance since the start of Russian hostilities in Ukraine.
Violation of sanctions can take different forms. In our practice, these cases are characterised by the export or import of goods which the investigatory bodies consider illegal to and from the European Union. Accordingly, the subject of disagreement is the specific goods, including metal products, items used in construction, and petroleum products, or their compliance with the status of goods subject to sanctions.
By assisting our clients and working together with experts in criminal law and customs law, our task is to determine whether a given item is truly classifiable as being subject to the status of a sanctioned item for security reasons.
Protection of honour and dignity
During 2023, we worked on a number of cases where clients suffered immediate negative consequences for their business and reputation following public media reports of unsubstantiated criminal activity.
The Criminal law provides for liability for defamation, or for intentionally spreading false, damaging fictions via a mass communication medium. In situations where the distribution of such information is directed against the company, in particular by blaming it for the implementation of criminal activities, the company’s reputation is harmed. Unfortunately, while providing assistance to victims, we have encountered the belief that only natural persons deserve protection from defamation, not companies. While we disagree with this interpretation of the rules, we are doing our best to change this perception.
Protection of journalists
It is not uncommon to hear of attacks on journalists and media editors with seemingly innocent but in fact harassing attempts at communication, negative comments or harassment. Latvia is no exception, and practice is also developing in cases related to these categories.
We provided legal assistance to a journalist who suffered from prolonged and repeated harassment by an individual, which included intimidation, threats and unwanted communications. By repeatedly approaching law enforcement authorities, we succeeded in initiating criminal proceedings that resulted in the entry into force of a judgment of conviction.
Offences in the service of public authorities
The activity of public officials is regulated by by ever-increasing and complex regulation of legal norms, which can be difficult to navigate not only for the state official themselves, but also for those who apply the norms of criminal law. The interpretation of legal norms can differ significantly, making the line between a violation of the law and fulfilment of official duties blurred or even completely unclear.
At the end of 2023, we undertook to provide defence to a public official in a criminal proceeding initiated in connection with possible violations committed while performing their official duties. As part of the process, the reasons for the significantly differing opinions about the rights and duties of the official should be clarified. The role of the defence lawyer in such cases is of particular importance, as it also contributes to raising awareness of the permissible conduct of officials in the performance of their duties in similar situations in the future.