Serious Fraud Office ‘should be more focused’

29 Apr 19

The quango that investigates and prosecutes serious fraud and corruption in England, Wales and Northern Ireland needs to be more focused and speed up.

That is the view of the head of the SFO Lisa Osofsky, who told the Financial Times in an interview she had done a “drains-up” look at the agency’s investigations since taking up her post in August last year.

The SFO director – a former FBI lawyer – told the FT: “We have always been painstaking – we’ve got top-notch investigators who have spent their life in law enforcement – but we’ve also got somewhere to in terms of focus.

“We’ve got to be able to focus enough so that our cases come into court within the kind of time to have the witnesses and defendants still living, and the evidence still alive.”.

Osofsky explained to the newspaper that the office had so far tended to examine “every last scrap of evidence”, which she said was not always necessary and suggested it needed to hone in on fraud cases that would be easier to win.

She added: “We’re spending taxpayers’ money, we need to make sure we’re thinking wisely about our investment and whether all the lines of inquiry are reasonable.”

She told the FT that in making decisions on which cases to pursue she would consider factors like whether the defendants might be too old to attend court and whether the SFO would be able to get necessary documents from foreign jurisdictions to bring cases to court.

In a separate interview with the Evening Standard Osofsky outlined her intentions to work closely with HMRC to help uncover fraud and corruption.

She suggested working with convicted offenders to catch other high profile fraudsters. Once caught, the offender could be given an ultimatum: “You can spend 20 years in jail for what you did or wear a wire and work with us,” Osofsky said.

Osofsky told the paper: “I see huge potential out there if you have got folks who have committed criminal acts possibly being willing to work with law enforcement. It’s got to make sense.”

These method, she said, have worked in America including uncovering the corruption of Fifa – football’s global governing body.

Read CIPFA counter fraud manager Marc McAuley’s blog on business rates fraud.

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