Hal Watson

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Legal 500, 2022
Hal Watson

Personal profile

Instructed as sole or led junior to prosecute and defend complex criminal and quasi-criminal cases, specialising in fraud and other financial misconduct in both criminal and civil jurisdictions. Including highly complex asset freezing, forfeiture, and confiscation proceedings.

Hal is a CPS Grade 4 prosecutor on both the Crown Prosecution Service Specialist Fraud panel and Proceeds of Crime panel and is routinely instructed at a pre-charge stage to advise in multi-handed cases of real public importance, more often than not including a multi-jurisdictional element. This includes investigations by the Serious Fraud Office, CPS Serious Economic Organised Crime and International Directorate and CPS Proceeds of Crime division, the Financial Conduct Authority, and Insolvency Service.

The focus of Hal’s practice is (prosecuting and defending) significant fraud and tax fraud offences where quantum is significantly in excess of £100M, allied money laundering, and subsequent confiscation proceedings. He is currently instructed in a number of international fraud/corruption investigations involving multinational corporates and cross-border bribery allegations, including section 7 Bribery Act 2010 (the corporate failure to prevent).

Hal has advised on internal investigations relating to financial misconduct by major financial institutions, deferred prosecution agreements, and breaches of domestic money laundering regulations.

Hal’s experience encompasses cases alleging conspiracy to cheat, conspiracy to defraud (including unlawful means), all other serious fraud type offences, money laundering (often with an international element), false accounting and Company Act offences, and large-scale benefit offences.

Hal has particular expertise in complex VAT fraud, criminal tax avoidance and MTIC fraud, related money laundering, and in the recovery of the proceeds of crime under both pre, and post Proceeds of Crime Act legislation. He is regularly instructed in confiscation hearings where benefit figures are in excess of £10m, allied enforcement proceedings, and on applications pursuant to section 22 and 23 PoCA 2002. Hal has relevant experience at first instance and in the appellate courts in relation to asset freezing and forfeiture under both criminal and civil regimes.

Hal has direct experience of AF powers arising from the Criminal Finances Act 2017 including where criminal proceedings were either not pursued or were inappropriate, and has advised on the interplay between and decisions to pursue civil as against criminal forfeiture processes.

Hal has a detailed knowledge (in particular as nominated disclosure counsel) of specialist areas including PII, Regulation of Investigatory Powers, the operation of the SAR regime, the obtaining and use of evidence from foreign jurisdictions and other disclosure and evidence gathering issues – including in the context of restraint and asset forfeiture/confiscation.

He routinely works in conjunction with (internal and external) forensic accountants and financial investigators both pre and post charge, and has significant experience in and regularly advises on the restraint and recovery of assets in the context of police and HMRC investigations relating to asset tracing, tax misconduct and restraint.

Business Crime & Fraud

Hal’s practice is – and has historically been – focussed on the prosecution of significant fraud and tax fraud offences where quantum is significantly in excess of £100M, allied money laundering, and subsequent confiscation proceedings.

In this context, Hal is a grade 4 prosecutor on the Crown Prosecution Service Specialist Fraud and Proceeds of Crime panels acting in respect of investigations by the police, HMRC, NCA and Insolvency Service. In addition he acts for the defence in Insolvency proceedings and in respect of investigations by the Serious Fraud Office.

Cases in which Hal is instructed frequently have an extra-jurisdictional element and involve interaction with overseas authorities including in the EU and US, and the obtaining and use of evidence via mutual assistance procedures. This extends to investigations involving – variously – transaction laundering, the use of corporate vehicles domiciled in recognised tax havens, and highly technical corporate structures designed to effect laundering processes or disguise the provenance of monies derived from criminal activity.

The ambit of Hal’s practice covers the spectrum of serious fraud offences, including conspiracy to cheat, conspiracy to defraud (including unlawful means), Fraud Act and allied incohate offences, money laundering (often with an international element), false accounting and Company Act offences.

Hal has advised on internal investigations relating to financial misconduct by major financial institutions, deferred prosecution agreements, and breaches of domestic money laundering regulations.

Hal has particular expertise in complex VAT fraud (including MTIC) and criminal tax avoidance in both criminal and civil jurisdictions, including the Tax tribunal and in the High/appellate courts.

Hal has a detailed knowledge (in particular as nominated disclosure counsel) of Fraud specific specialist areas including PII, Regulation of Investigatory Powers, the operation of the SAR regime, the obtaining and use of evidence from foreign jurisdictions and other disclosure issues.

He routinely works in conjunction with (internal and external) forensic accountants and financial investigators both pre and post charge, and has significant experience in and regularly advises on the restraint and recovery of assets in the context of police and HMRC investigations relating to asset tracing, tax misconduct and restraint.

He is currently instructed in a number of international fraud/corruption investigations involving multinational corporates and cross-border bribery allegations, including section 7 Bribery Act 2010 (the corporate failure to prevent).

Featured Cases

  • 2017 – ongoing – Multi-jurisdictional bribery and fraud investigation in which quantum is in excess of £200M and corporate and individual assets are subject to active investigation. Instructed pre-charge and re shape/form of the case/the indictment. Working in conjunction with external forensic accountants and internal financial investigators; advising on jurisdictional matters, bribery, Mutual Assistance processes, PII including going to the admissibility of internal investigations, benefit, the framing of money laundering allegations and on issues relevant to restraint and confiscation going forward.
  • 2017 – ongoing – Multi-jurisdictional (anti-dumping) fraud investigation in which quantum is in excess of £100M. Advising on criminal prosecution; the use of overseas evidence; the status of EU tax liabilities post Brexit; and asset recovery including (the tension between) parallel criminal and civil restraint/forfeiture proceedings.
  • 2021 – ongoing – Privately instructed in relation to an SFO investigation and allied civil proceedings relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme and the mis-selling of property investment schemes. Advising on the criminal case pre-charge; civil freezing (where there is a worldwide freezing order in place and fortification is in issue); and concurrent restraint proceedings where benefit is put at circa £150M.
  • 2020 – ongoing – Multi-jurisdictional fraud and money laundering investigation in which parallel criminal and civil freezing orders are subject to appellate litigation in the Crown (appeal/discharge) and High Court (judicial review). Advising variously on AFO and restraint processes; the obtaining of evidence via MA and like mechanisms; the admissibility of evidence in civil and criminal proceedings including restraint/forfeiture.
  • Section 22 applications recently completed (ie in the past 3 years) and ongoing for CPS POC include R v A; J; J; P; M (all re quantum/delay/fairness); Nelson (proportionality/delay/lifestyle in the context of Ahmad and Fields) Shaw (All CPS POC).
  • In addition recently instructed on multiple applications relating to enforcement receivers (Crown and High Court) including R v F; R v H- And on restraint and confiscation where not originally instructed as trial counsel and specialist POC counsel required, including Ops Geiger (third party and extensive tainted gift issues, benefit and aa > £1M Obey (multi handed, benefit & aa > £1M) (All CPS POC).
  • Operation Lunar: (2017 – 2020) – significant tax fraud relating to the design, operation and selling of high risk investment schemes in films, pharmaceutical research and computer games to high net worth individuals. Advised variously on preferring a voluntary bill of indictment, costs (in excess of £5M), and disclosure processes including Mutual Assistance (instructed CPS SFD).
  • Operation Geiger: (2017) – Instructed to conduct complex confiscation proceedings subsequent to a significant money laundering prosecution involving multiple defendants, third party issues and significant hidden asset/gift considerations (CPS POC).
  • R v T, H and ors (Operation Tarlac) (2016 – 2021) – Series of trials involving 15 defendants alleging conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to money launder, money laundering and perverting the course of justice by an international organised crime group. The group targeted NHS trusts, councils, educational institutions and other similar public bodies by fraudulently diverting funds from legitimate construction projects into accounts they controlled in UK and overseas. Instructed in the substantive proceedings, in allied proceedings relevant to restraint/contempt and on confiscation including re the design of a protocol dealing with lifestyle in case where an Ahmad proviso is applied in conjunction with compensation and where sums identified as available were commensurate with the quantum of the predicate offending; thereafter in protracted enforcement proceedings; and on appeal (instructed CPS SFD and CPS POC).
  • R v. A and ors (Operation Vista ) (2015 -2017) – 7-handed multi million pound money laundering of funds from a European VAT fraud, much of which went through a money service business in the UK. Contested confiscation subject to appeal (CPS SFD and CPS POC).
  • R v Ul H and ors (Operation Janitor) (2014 and 2015) – instructed alone pre-charge and subsequently as led first junior in a multi handed VAT fraud involving the creation of front companies to facilitate VAT reclaims: over 20 defendants. Appeared in the Court of Appeal on application in respect of a jury irregularity and on confiscation (CPS SFD and CPS POC).

See our Business Crime & Fraud team.

Proceeds of Crime

Hal has very significant experience in cases relating to the recovery of criminal proceeds under both pre, and post Proceeds of Crime Act legislation, including the PoCA freezing and forfeiture provisions and the Unexplained Wealth Order regime.

Hal is a grade 4 prosecutor on the CPS Proceeds of Crime Panel and acts for the defence in non-CPS matters, therefore in respect of proceedings brought by the Serious Fraud Office, Insolvency Service and in like civil proceedings.

He is regularly instructed in confiscation hearings where benefit figures are in excess of £10m, allied enforcement proceedings, and on applications pursuant to section 22 and 23 PoCA 2002. Hal has relevant experience at first instance and in the appellate courts in relation to asset freezing and forfeiture including in the High Court with reference to enforcement and receivership processes.

Hal has direct experience of AF powers arising from the Criminal Finances Act 2017 including where criminal proceedings were either not pursued or were inappropriate, and has advised on the interplay between and decisions to pursue civil as against criminal forfeiture processes (including with reference to relevant standard and burdens and the unavailability of criminal disposal).

He routinely works in conjunction with (internal and external) forensic accountants and financial investigators both pre and post charge in respect of restraint and the recovery/confiscation of assets in the context of police and HMRC investigations relating to asset tracing, tax misconduct and restraint.

See our Proceeds of Crime team.

Investigations

Hal is currently instructed in a number of International fraud/corruption Investigations involving multinational corporates and cross-border bribery allegations, including section 7 Bribery Act 2010 (the corporate failure to prevent).

Hal has advised on internal investigations relating to financial misconduct by major financial institutions and breaches of domestic money laundering regulations.

See our Investigations team.

Financial Services Regulation

Hal has an evolving regulatory practice, principally relating to tax and the accounting profession, and has advised in cases of major public interest. He has appeared at the First Tier Tax Tribunal and in the High Court in respect of regulatory matters (including those relating to applicable costs regimes). He has been instructed to prosecute Company Act, and insolvency related cases, specifically those having a complex financial element, and involving protracted confiscation, and disqualification proceedings.

See our Financial Services Regulation team.

Crime

Hal’s practice encompasses the ambit of criminal law, including all types of fraud, duty evasion, serious violence (wounding/GBH with intent), robbery, harassment, sexual offences, money laundering, and the supply of drugs. He has appeared in cases involving multi-million pound tax fraud, the importation of very significant amounts of drugs, child cruelty, and conspiracy various.

See our Crime team.

Education

  • BVC, PGDL (College of Law, London),
  • BA Hons University College London.

Recommendations

‘Hal Watson is recognised for his experience in financial crime cases. He has a particular focus on the prosecution of large-scale fraud and money laundering cases.’

‘He is incredibly thorough and very hard-working … a very good operator; he deals in large-scale, paper-heavy cases and is meticulous … the go-to financial crime junior.’

Band 1 Chambers and Partners 2022; Financial Crime in The Regions (Bar)

He is absolutely all over the details of complex cases.’

Band 1 2020

‘A go-to prosecution junior for complex, document-heavy cases; he is like a walking encyclopaedia of the details of the case…He’s always thoroughly on top of his brief.’

Band 1 2019

Professional appointments

  • Grade 4 Prosecutor Crown Prosecution Service Serious Fraud Panel
  • Grade 4 Prosecutor Crown Prosecution Service Proceeds of Crime Panel

Memberships

  • Criminal Bar Association
  • North Eastern Circuit

Other experience