HONGKONG's Independent Commission Against Corruption could provide a model for Britain to tackle its ''growing epidemic of corruption and corporate crime'', a criminologist said. The Hongkong University's criminology lecturer in the sociology department, Dr Jon Vagg, said an independent, high-powered body was urgently needed to fight Britain's growing corruption, particularly in the corporate sector. ''Corruption exists at all levels in the United Kingdom. Big white-collar crime clearly involves corruption but it has always been a British trait to insist it is something that happens somewhere else. ''There is a tendency to regard English political and legal and government institutions as being beyond suspicion. Clearly this is not the case.'' Dr Vagg cited the case in which HK$5 billion was found missing from Robert Maxwell pension funds affecting 33,000 employees. The scandal involving the late, disgraced newspaper tycoon had involved ''corruption which deprived thousands of people of their pension entitlements. It is a big and serious crime,'' Dr Vagg said. He said Britain needed a more effective body to handle such cases. ''They have been trying to deal with their problems through the Serious Fraud Office but it is not set up well enough to deal with the problems. It is basically a prosecution office and relies on existing police resources.'' He said Hongkong's ICAC should not be duplicated, but could serve as a base model. ''A separate agency is needed with its own mandate, budget and staff invested with powers independent of the police. This would be effective against the kind of cases which are happening now, and it would be seen to be effective.'' He said the covert nature of corruption made it impossible to compare levels of corruption in the territory and the United Kingdom, but corruption-related corporate crime had obviously reached ''epidemic proportions'' in Britain. ''It has been fostered by a sort of Thatcherite individualist ethic which follows the speculative, get-rich mentality,'' he said. He said Hongkong's ICAC had not made the territory corruption-free, but it had sent a clear warning to offenders that corruption was not acceptable, and an assuring message to people considering investing in the territory. ''The United Kingdom should consider setting up something along the lines of Hongkong's ICAC which would give a clear signal that this is not allowed to happen in an allegedly civilised country,'' he said.