16 Jun 2014 | 10:07 am | 2 min. read
• SFO bouncing back from its annus horribilis The number of raids to investigate fraud suspects carried out by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) hastrebled in a year, jumping to 26 in the last year up from the 8 raids conducted in the previous 12 months, according to Pinsent Masons, the international law firm.
According to Pinsent Masons, the SFO raids properties where it believes suspected assets of financial crime are hidden, or to seize evidence of white collar crime.
Pinsent Masons explains that the jump in the number of raidssuggests that the SFO is finally bouncing back from itsannushorribilis in 2011-12 when all raids were suspended in the wake of the Tchenguiz scandal.
The SFO still faces a £300 million damages case from Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz over the mishandled investigation into their business activities.
Pinsent Masons explains that despite the recent boost in activity, the number of raids to investigate fraud suspects conducted in the last year is still below the longer term average of approximately 50 property searches per year.
Barry Vitou, Partner at Pinsent Masons, comments: “The SFO is upping the ante against white collar crime, finally bouncing back from the apparent crisis of faith they suffered.”
“The SFO, under robust new management, is keen to prove that even though it has been handed a shoestring budget, it can still make good on its promise to be a threat toserious white collar criminals. This step up in activity is part of its efforts to regain its poise and then its authority.”
“UK businesses will be hopeful that this means that the agency has now turned the corner, putting more distance between itself and the unhappier parts of its legacy.”
“However, even though the SFO has upped its activity in the last year, the number of raids is still well behind the broader longer term trend. I think that the SFO should be pointing to its progress in raids this year as evidence of what it could do if it was actually put on a sound and sustainable financial footing.”
Pinsent Masons explains that the SFO’s budget fell to £38 million in the last financial year down from £52 million pounds in 2008. However, in 2013 the SFO struck a deal with the Government whereby the agency could approach the Treasury to request additional funding for one off investigations.
In January, the SFO applied to the Government for an additional £19 million in funding to allow it pursue a number of high profile investigations.
Barry Vitou adds: “An effective SFO is critical to the UK economy, ensuring that businesses are protected from white collar crime. An increase in activity has the potential to deter other would-be criminals.
“While special one-off budget injections for high profile investigations can certainly help the SFO, this type of funding is not the answer. The SFO needs a better system of funding so it can have a steady stream of money to ensure that it can operate as effectively as possible to stop fraudulent activity.”
Number of raids conducted by the SFO to search businesses or individuals under investigation, year ending March 31st
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