Justifications of white collar criminals — Akhbar Satar

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JULY 2 — According to the latest Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission statistics 1101 were arrested for corruption compared to 894 in 2018. This figure includes public officials, politicians, sector and civilians arrested for corruption.

Bukit Aman statistics, 25,000 fraud cases, 15,000 individuals arrested and 65 per cent involved fraud scams were reported nationwide last year, with losses at RM6.2 billion.

The fraud triangle is a model to explain the factors that cause white collar criminals to commit corruption and fraud. This is how how corporations respond to accusations of wrong-doing and criminal behaviour.

The fraud triangle consists of three components which, together, lead to fraudulent behaviour:

Pressure — usually financial in nature, including lifestyle, debt, substance abuse, gambling and spouse

Opportunity — weakness in internal controls, lack of access of information and bad workplace culture are the basis of corrupt practices; and,

Rationlisation — an internal dialogue to make an excuse for one’s unethical behaviour due to unclear policy and ethics and “My boss is also corrupted.”

Internal dialogue

The techniques of neutralisation have been emphasised as important reasons for deviant behaviour and are applicable to fraud.

The final component needed to complete the fraud triangle is rationalisation.

The techniques were developed to explain the reasons, and the mechanisms of deception in cases of the mechanisms of deception in cases and justify their criminal acts as techniques of neutralisation.

It is an internal dialogue that comforts white collar criminals or fraudsters and lets them know that it is all right to do this.

The mind-set of the fraudsters justifies them to commit fraud. They have to redefine a deviant’s behaviour or come up with some reasoning or to make the act of committing fraud more acceptable to them.

In that person’s mind, committing crime becomes a reasonable action and not wrong.

A close reading of the argument by American criminologist Gresham M. Sykes and sociologist David Matza reveals at least fve major points that he uses to justify his view and who came up with Techniques of Neutralisation:

Denial of responsibility

This first rationalisation is when fraudsters intend to dismiss responsibility for the law violation and plead ignorance.

The excuses of such offenders are that the acts are due to forces outside personal control such as unloving parents, raised in welfare homes, peer group influence or bad neighbourhood.

They believe that they have no choice but to engage in crime and corruption.

They give reasons such as “it was not my choice,” “I succumbed to my boss’s pressure and was forced to do it” and “I did not mean to do it.” And “no one will be hurt anyway.”

Denial of injury

The second technique is another defence mechanism, where offenders recognise that their behaviour is wrong but insist that it did not cause any harm to anyone.

In their case, there’s no real victim and therefore there’s no harm. People who use this technique make statements such no one was hurt’,” as “the bank is insured,” “I have financial problems, so I will just borrow this money until the next payday.”

Denial of the victim

The offender transforms the illegal behaviour into a justifiable target. They believe that the victim deserved whatever action the offender committed.

For example, by saying the bank deserved to be punished, or “He started it.”

Condemnation of the condemners

This technique denounces the person who has alleged violation of the law. Condemning the victim is one of the ways in which offenders neutralise their guilty feelings. 

In their opinion, the victim played an important role causing the crime. It involves shifting the blame from themselves.

They place a negative image on those who opposed the criminal behaviour. They abdicate responsibility and blame others.

They are just as bad, “My boss is more corrupted,” or “the police also break the law.”

Appeal to higher loyalties

This technique justifies violation of the law by conforming to the moral demands of another group affiliation.

Sykes and Matza say this usually occurs when something big is at stake.

The crime was allegedly committed not for self-interest but out of obedience to some moral obligation. “The offence was necessary for my family and to help my friends.” And “I was helping my friend.”

Some violate policies to get things done and achieve the strategic objectives of the company.

In this respect, the offender suggests that his or her offence is for the greater good, with long-term consequences that would justify his actions, such as to protect the boss.

The techniques of neutralisation show how fraudsters rationalise their behaviour to criminality.

There are many examples of fraudsters using techniques of neutralisation to justify their actions.

Neutralisation involves excuses invoked before the commission of the offense in order to repress guilt while rationalization involves excuses invoked after such commission.

Some political leaders, public officers and private sector figures charged in court for corruption-related offences justify their unacceptable behaviour by saying they were only following their bosses’ criminal acts.

There are law-abiding individuals who are not criminals but still engage in corruption and get into trouble because they rationalise that “everybody does it.”

One of the most intriguing findings of white-collar crime literature is that corrupt individuals tend not to view themselves as corrupt.

The techniques of neutralisation theory remain the most relevant and are being used in the ongoing dialogue concerning the motivations and perceptions of white collar criminals or fraudsters.

They will have an inner dialogue to make an excuse to commit a crime. This model explains why individuals engage in corruption that would otherwise violate their internal moral framework.

* Datuk Seri Akhbar Satar holds a professorial chair at Institute of Crime and Criminology, HELP University.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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