The Second Regional Conference on Economic Crime, Kuala Lumpur, 24 May 1993
I thank the organisers for their indulgence in inviting me once again to officiate this conference. When I opened a similar gathering last year, the Malaysian public had just be been treated to the shocking news about the public share issue refund cheques fraud. For a while the public was beginning to entertain doubts about the integrity of our institutions such as the postal service, commercial banks and public share issuing agency. But speedy action by the police, and excellent cooperation on the part of all agencies involved, resulted in the arrest of the culprits, and confidence in our banking and related institutions was immediately restored.
To be meaningful, a gathering like this must serve to clarify the connections and implications of economic crime to the society at large. A stable, thriving and prosperous financial sector is the foundation of development, the bedrock of opportunity, employment and the well-being for the nation. Fraud, insider trading, misappropriation, malicious manipulation and the whole gamut of financial and business crimes destroy confidence and eat away at the very life blood of social advance for everyone.
With the globalization of financial markets, economic crimes can now cross national borders with the greatest ease. It will be beyond the ability of a single nation to deal with the criminal activities that have been organized on a global scale. Thus collaborative efforts on the part of law enforcement agencies to deal with the problem is imperative.
Economic criminals rely upon the complexity of the financial and business world. They take refuge behind the camouflage of the impenetrability of dense and difficult legislation so far as the general public is concerned. The most efficient antidote to the economic criminal comes from the insight and probity of the people among whom they work.
Businessmen and entrepreneurs are best able to monitor, regulate and remain vigilant against the renegades who practice crimes of economic terrorism. I say economic terrorism because commercial crimes tend to inspire fear in the ordinary honest citizen towards the business community. To fulfill vision 2020, our economy needs the life blood of investment, which must increasingly be drawn from the hard earned savings of ordinary citizens. Economic crimes erode confidence and trust in our business community as managers and custodians of these savings. The honest entrepreneur could not hope to operate efficiently in a climate where trust for the business community had been eroded by the renegades in their midst. It is therefore in the long term interest of the business community to root out the criminal elements operating amongst them.
Economic criminals defy the law and break the rules. They are traitors to their colleagues and enemies of the people. Their victims are not "nobody" just because there are many people whose faces and names are not specified or even directly known to the criminals. Ultimately the victims are each and everyone of us. That is why society must insist economic criminals be pursued with energy, vigour and determination.
We are taught to have mercy for the person whose crime is prompted by desperation and need. That is not the profile of the economic criminal. Typically, they are people who already have the benefits of education, employment and opportunity. We see no lurking evil in rich and abundant reward for enterprise and effort. On the contrary, we view it as a blessing in moral and social terms. They only proviso is that it is acquired with honesty and with responsibility towards the rest of society, for no businessman, however individualist, ever reaps rewards without the participation of a whole society. But the crimes of those who abuse their knowledge, trust and opportunity, in other words the crimes of the haves, are the greatest injustice of all. Their punishment should be harsh and severe, to commensurate with the enormity of their contempt for the well- being of the society at large.
There is one legacy of the 1980's which must be finally buried under the wreckage of the economic havoc it has caused, especially in certain Western countries. It is the free-wheeling, "greed is all right" philosophy, espoused by the likes of Boesky and Milken. Economic crime does not occur in a complex environment where the line between innovative and enterprise and open criminality is too fine to be drawn. On the contrary, the line is very clear. Anything that injures the integrity of the markets and the interests of the society as a whole must be considered criminal. Those who consider it intelligent on their part to circumvent the laws and beat the system cannot escape moral censure even if they manage to elude the long arms of the law. In any event, it is our duty to reform and enhance the system to ensure that such culprits do not commit crimes with impunity.
In recent years, there has been ample evidence of the fact that even the smartest, most powerful and feared criminal brains have been successfully stopped in their tracks. In the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan, some of the once legendary figures in the global financial community have been brought low and made to pay for their misdeeds. We hope that with increasing vigilance on the part of regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies, the potential criminal would be deterred. A strong and transparent system will surely be preventive of criminal activity as well as minimize the possible temptations to make quick gains through crime.
Economic crime can only flourish when we allow ourselves to be passive recipients of rapid and complex change, when we allow technological wizardry to boggle our minds instead of learning to dominate it. Combating economic crime demands our most enterprising and imaginative application of intelligence. It is an essential ingredient of fostering a vision of a better society, a crucial part of making that vision a working reality. The maturity of our moral vision is the test of our ability to combat economic crime and to live and thrive in today's global marketplace.