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Deception and Violence: A Tale of Two Types of Crime

This insight contrasts violent crimes, which cause immediate physical harm, with economic crimes that subtly undermine societal trust and moral integrity. It explores the distinct motives and broader impacts of each crime type, emphasizing how economic offences such as fraud and bribery erode confidence in financial institutions and the justice system. The article also examines India's legislative responses to these challenges, highlighting the need for nuanced legal and ethical strategies to safeguard societal stability and ensure a fair justice system.

Introduction

‘Crimes of violence strike at the body, but economic crimes strike at the soul of society.’                              

- John Kenneth Galbraith

This quote highlights the profound difference between the immediate physical harm caused by violent crimes and the deep, systemic damage inflicted by economic crimes. While violent crimes result in direct physical injury and fear, affecting individuals and their immediate surroundings, economic crimes undermine the ethical and moral fabric of society, eroding trust in financial institutions and justice systems. This erosion has far-reaching consequences, damaging societal values, creating inequality, and fostering widespread cynicism, making it more challenging to restore the societal integrity and trust crucial for a healthy, functioning community.

Comparing economic offences with bodily crimes reveals apparent differences in motives, impacts, and execution. While personal crimes often arise from intense emotions and conflicts, economic offences are driven by greed and planned meticulously for financial benefit. As we tackle the challenges of addressing economic crimes, it becomes clear that understanding the severity of these offences is crucial. Finding a balance between punishment and prevention and ensuring fair justice systems is essential for effectively combating economic crimes and protecting society.

Economic Offences in India and Their Impact

The Law Commission of India, in its 29th report (1966), has noted the various factors responsible for the growth of economic crimes and white-collar crimes in the following words: ‘The advance of technological and scientific development is a contribution to the emergence of mass society, with a large rank and file and a small controlling elite encouraging the growth of monopolies, the rise of a managerial class intricate institutional mechanisms. Strict adherence to a high standard of ethical behaviour is necessary for the honest functioning of the new social, political and economic processes. The Inability of all sections of society to appreciate in full this need results in the emergence and growth of white collar and economic crimes.’

The primary reason for categorizing ‘economic offences’ as a distinct type of crime is because, unlike typical offences that generally target an individual or a specific group, economic offences impact the broader population by undermining the economic stability and welfare of the nation. In Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy v. CBI[i], the Hon’ble Supreme Court (‘SC’) elaborated on the nature of economic offences, stating: ‘The economic offences having deep-rooted conspiracies and involving huge loss of public funds need to be viewed seriously and considered as grave offences affecting the economy of the country as a whole and thereby posing serious threat to the financial health of the country’.

Economic offences in India encompass various types, each with distinct characteristics and legal implications. Fraud is a broad category punishable under the provisions of IPC and the Companies Act, 2013. Fraud involves deceptive practices like active concealment, false suggestions, and untrue promises to induce someone into doing something. Examples include banking fraud, insurance fraud, and corporate fraud. Other categories include offences such as bribery (an offence punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988), embezzlement (punishable under the IPC), money laundering (punishable under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002) and tax evasion (an offence under the Income Tax Act, 1961).

The Law Commission of India, in its 155th Report on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, submitted in July 1997, inter alia, stated: -

‘The crimes are generally of two kinds:

(a) Traditional crimes affecting individual persons, like murder, theft, assault, etc.;

(b) White-Collar Crimes or Socio-Economic Crimes affecting the public at large like smuggling, hoardings, adulteration, illicit trafficking and sale of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances etc. White-collar crimes are of recent origin and may be defined as all illegal acts committed by unlawful means — the purpose being to obtain money or property or business or personal gain or profit. Such crimes are committed by the organised gangs having influence.

Some of the salient features of the white-collar crimes are as under:

(a) there is no social sanction against such white-collar crimes;

(b) these crimes are committed by organised gangs equipped with most modern technology;

(c) there is generally a nexus between the politicians, law enforcing agencies and the offenders indulging directly in such crimes;

(d) there is no organised public opinion against such crimes; and

(e) the traditional crimes are isolated crimes, while the white-collar crimes are part and parcel of the society.’

These economic offences erode investor confidence, disrupt market stability, and deter foreign investment, ultimately hampering economic growth. The pervasive nature of these crimes undermines public trust in financial institutions and governance, leading to reduced economic activity and a slowdown in overall economic development. The rise in diverse economic offences such as tax evasion, trafficking, and smuggling necessitated the creation of specialized legislation.

Crimes Against the Human Body

The Offences against the human body are generally committed by inflicting physical harm or using force on another individual. They can be categorized into four types: fatal, non-fatal, sexual, and non-sexual. One notable leading English criminal case, R v Dudley and Stephens[ii], established a precedent throughout the common law that illustrates the gravity of crimes against the human body. In this case, the defendants, Thomas Dudley and Edwin Stephens, were sailors who, after being stranded at sea for several days without food or water, resorted to killing and consuming a cabin boy, Richard Parker, in order to survive. The defendants argued that their actions were justified by necessity, as they believed it was necessary to sacrifice one individual to save the lives of the remaining crew members. However, the Court held that the killing of Parker was not justified by necessity and constituted murder. Despite the Court’s stern rejection of their defence and the ultimate determination of guilt, it is clear that Dudley and Stephens acted out of a desperate, immediate need for survival. This stands in stark contrast to the meticulous scheming seen in economic crimes, where actions are driven by cold-hearted greed.

Distinguishing Factors between Economic Offences and Bodily Crimes

The distinction between Economic Offences and Bodily Crimes can be very well understood by the observation of the SC in Tofan Singh v. The State Of Tamil Nadu[iii].

‘Socio-economic crimes such as trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, food adulteration, black marketing, profiteering and hoarding, smuggling, tax evasion and the like, which are ‘white collar crimes’ affect the health and material welfare of the community as a whole, as against that of an individual victim, and are, by and large, committed not by disadvantaged low class people, but by very affluent and immensely powerful people, who often exploit the less advantaged, to execute their nefarious designs. Such crimes have to be dealt with firmly and cannot be equated with other crimes, committed by individual offenders against individual victims.’

I.  Quantum of punishment

Determining the appropriate punishment for an offence involves various factors, with severity being one of them. However, it is essential to recognize that punishment alone does not determine the gravity of an offence entirely. The issue of punishment quantum has been a subject of careful consideration, with theoretical possibilities of limitless imprisonment, though practically constrained. In contrast to bodily crimes, where imprisonment durations are relatively standardized, economic offences present a different scenario. While bodily crimes may lead to fixed imprisonment terms based on severity, economic offences often involve complex considerations such as regulatory penalties, societal impact, etc., which may not always align with traditional punitive measures.

II. Motive

The motive behind the act stands out as a significant factor, whether economic offences or bodily crimes. Unlike bodily crimes driven by motives such as lust or hate, economic offences are characterized by motives like materialistic greed, financial gain, power and control. The perpetrators of economic crimes operate with the intention of financial gain through fraudulent means rather than physical force, demonstrating a deliberate and wilful pursuit of monetary benefits. The societal interest in preventing economic offences lies in safeguarding individual and national resources from exploitation or waste and ensuring the integrity of the economic system as a whole. Motive, in the context of criminal behaviour, serves as an abstract and psychological concept that underpins the rationale behind each offence.

III. Emotion

The background for economic offences and bodily crimes differs significantly in their emotional aspect and the nature of the relationship between the offender and the victim. Economic offences are driven by materialistic greed and avarice, reflecting a disregard for ethical norms and a relentless pursuit of personal gain at the expense of societal well-being and financial integrity. In contrast, bodily crimes often stem from intense emotions such as jealousy, anger, revenge, or love. While both bodily crimes like the Nirbhaya case[iv] and economic offences like the Satyam scandal[v] are serious, they are heinous in different ways. The Nirbhaya case exemplifies extreme brutality, where a young woman was gang-raped and tortured in Delhi, leading to her death and resulting in severe penalties for the convicts under ss. 120(B), 365, 366, 307, 376(2)(g), 396, 302, 395, 397, 201, and 412 of IPC. This egregious violation of human rights and dignity constituted multiple offences punishable under these sections of the IPC. In contrast, the Satyam scandal exposed a shocking case of corporate fraud when, in January 2009, Satyam Computer Services' chairman, Ramalinga Raju, confessed to inflating the company's assets by over $1 billion. This deliberate act of deceit shattered investor trust, led to massive financial losses, and caused thousands of job losses. Ramalinga Raju and other key executives were prosecuted under various sections, including ss. 388B, 397, 398, 401, 402, 403 read with 406 and 408 of the Companies Act, 1956, which encompass provisions related to corporate governance, investigation of company affairs, penalties for non-compliance, and punishment for offences under the Companies Act. While both bodily crimes and economic offences are serious, the threshold for severity depends on their respective impacts. Bodily crimes harm individuals and communities, while economic offences disrupt financial stability and public trust, requiring distinct societal and legal responses.

IV.  Impact

Economic offences and bodily crimes differ significantly in their scope of impact and the nature of harm they cause. Economic offences, such as fraud and embezzlement, primarily affect the national economy and cause widespread monetary losses to the public. These crimes impact large segments of society, often harming the consuming public and the nation's financial health, even if no particular individual is directly harmed. In contrast, bodily crimes like murder, rape, and assault have a more immediate and personal impact, causing direct physical and emotional harm to individuals. While economic offences can undermine the financial stability of a country and lead to large-scale economic crises, bodily crimes typically result in direct, severe harm to individuals. They can also affect communities by creating fear and disrupting social harmony. Understanding these differences highlights the broader societal and economic repercussions of economic crimes compared to the immediate, personal devastation caused by bodily crimes. In Prem Kumar Parmar v. State (CBI)[vi], the Delhi High Court (‘DHC’) noted that offences such as cheating and forgery disrupt the country's economy, adversely affecting the lives of the majority, particularly those from economically weaker sections of society. The DHC emphasized that such economic offences are more egregious than murders. It also highlighted the correlation between crime rates and poverty, indicating that crime is often linked to poorer regions due to their harsh living conditions and lack of resources.

V.  Mode

The mode of these types of offences is fraud generally and not force. A classified economic offence includes money laundering, fraud, tax evasion, and cheating. Financial fraud covers financial statement fraud, investment scams, and fraudulent financial mis-selling. Fraud is committed in a bilateral contractual situation or otherwise, whether involving personal funds or public funds, also an act of cheating or if such an act involves impersonation, criminal breach of trust or criminal conspiracy, forgery, or falsification or destruction of documents for wrongful gain, or embezzlement of funds, then and only then, such fraud can be an offence. In State of Gujarat v. Mohanlal Jitamalji Porwal and Anr.[vii], the SC observed as follows: - ‘The entire Community is aggrieved if the socio-economic offenders who ruin the economy of the State are not brought to books. 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.’

VI. Presumption of Guilt for Bail

In the criminal justice system, bail is typically granted to hold the presumption of innocence and allow accused individuals to await trial outside of custody unless they pose a flight risk or a danger to society. Bail decisions balance the needs of criminal justice (social interest and investigative authorities) and the presumption of innocence (individual interest). However, this balance shifts in socio-economic crimes, where the rules for granting bail differ due to the distinct nature of these offences. Economic offences, driven by personal profit, cause significant societal harm and public fund losses, necessitating stricter bail considerations. In Lalit Goel v. Commissioner of Central Excise[viii], while addressing a bail application at Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (‘CESTAT’), observed that economic offences constitute a distinct category and require a different approach regarding bail. Recognizing the increasing materialistic outlook that drives unscrupulous individuals to maximize gains through unlawful means, the Court suggested the need for appropriate legislative measures and judicial intervention to protect the interests of the State and the public at large.

Legal Frameworks and Sentencing Disparities

Bodily harm under IPC can occur in the heat of the moment, often driven by immediate provocation or emotional outburst, with several statutory defences available, such as the five exceptions under s. 300 IPC (grave and sudden provocation, private defence, exercise of legal power, sudden fight, and consent) and general exceptions under Chapter IV of IPC (mistake of fact, infancy, insanity, intoxication, consent, compulsion, and private defence). In contrast, economic offences are premeditated and calculated acts intended to defraud or deceive for financial gain, exploiting systemic weaknesses and causing widespread societal harm and significant financial losses.

The laws enacted regarding economic offences and the judicial decisions in such cases highlight the severe consequences of these crimes and the stringent legal measures required to deter them. In Ram Narain Popli v. Central Bureau Of Investigation[ix], the SC, while upholding the conviction of the Accused persons charged with the offences of cheating, criminal breach of trust, forgery, abuse of public offices and dishonest misappropriation of the public funds under s. 120B read with ss. 420, 409, 467 and 471 of the IPC and s. 13(l c) read with s. 13(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, observed as follows:

‘380. The offences in these cases were not of the conventional or traditional type. The ultimate objective was to use public money in a carefully planned manner for personal use with no right to do it.

382. 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. A disregard for the interest of the Community can be manifested only at the cost of forfeiting the trust and faith of the community in the system to administer justice in an even-handed manner without fear of criticism from the quarters which view white collar crimes with a permissive eye, unmindful of the damage; done to the National Economy and National Interest.’

Further, in Sushil Ansal v. State Through CBI[x], the SC sentenced the Ansal brothers for criminal negligence leading to the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy, emphasizing the repercussions of endangering public safety for financial gain. In Mrs. Leena Mahesh v. Republic of India[xi], the SC denied bail to an accused involved in a chit-fund scam in Orissa, underscoring the seriousness and premeditated nature of economic offences. Similarly, in Subrata Roy Sahara v. Union of India[xii], Subrata Roy was taken into custody for non-compliance with SEBI orders, with the SC stressing the importance of strict enforcement of financial regulations to maintain the financial system's integrity.

These cases highlight the distinct and severe nature of economic offences compared to bodily crimes. These cases emphasize that while the principles of criminal jurisprudence, such as the presumption of innocence, still apply, the premeditated and wide-reaching impact of economic offences on the financial system and society necessitates a stricter approach in legal proceedings, particularly concerning bail and penalties.

Conclusion

On February 3, 2022, the SC[xiii] underscored the severity of money laundering, describing it as a more serious and heinous crime than murder due to its potential to disrupt and derail the entire economy and stated, ‘The offence of money laundering damages the economy and the financial system of the country. It can put the economy on hold or derail it. It is more serious than murder. That is why a special Act was framed,’ observed a bench comprising Justices A. M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and C.T. Ravikumar.

Economic offences are arguably more severe than bodily crimes due to their calculated nature and widespread impact. While bodily crimes cause direct physical harm and emotional trauma, economic offences such as fraud and corruption undermine public trust and financial stability on a large scale. These crimes reflect a deliberate disregard for ethical norms and societal well-being, posing significant threats to economic security and public welfare. The repercussions of economic offences extend beyond individual victims to impact entire economies, jeopardizing investor confidence, hindering economic growth, and potentially causing widespread job losses and financial instability. Moreover, the aftermath of such offences often requires extensive regulatory intervention and legal scrutiny to restore trust and safeguard economic integrity. Thus, while bodily crimes are undeniably devastating on a personal level, the calculated nature and systemic harm caused by economic offences underscore their severe impact on society as a whole.







End Notes

[i] (2013) 7 SCC 439

[iii] (2021) 4 SCC 1

[iv] (2017) 6 SCC 1

[v] (2008) 4 SCC 190

[vi] 1989 RLR 131

[vii] AIR 1987 SC 1321

[viii] 2007 (3) JCC 2282

[ix] (2003) 3 SCC 641

[x] 2014 AIR SCW 2689

[xi] BLAPL NO. 7580 OF 2018

[xii] AIR 2014 SUPREME COURT 3241








Authored by Pratima Ajmera, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.

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