Number of Serious Fraud Office raids highest in six years

31 July 2018 3 min. read
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With fraud in the UK at an alarming high, the Serious Fraud Office spent the past year trebling its efforts to gather information on major scam artists. The 12 months leading to March 2018 saw the SFO complete some 30 raids on suspects, more than the past three years in total.

Fraud in Britain has risen by more than 500% over the last 15 years, while the latest data available has revealed a 6% increase in major scams over the course of 2017, as the total bill breached the £2 billion mark. With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Serious Fraud Office has taken more hard-line action to weed out fraudsters over the last year than in the last three years combined, as it bids to stop the rot.

The Serious Fraud Office is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom department that investigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud and corruption in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the 12 months leading up to March 2018, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) tripled the number of raids it executed on the last year, hitting its highest frequency in six years. This saw the conducting of a total of 30 raids to gather evidence for criminal investigations, compared to nine leading up to March 2017, and 13 in total between 2014 and 2015. Since March 2017, some of the high-profile probes have included oil giant Petrofac in May, mining company Rio Tinto in July, and British American Tobacco in August last year.

Number of Serious Fraud Office raids highest in six years

The statistics were uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by law firm Greenberg Traurig, before being reported across the UK press. While the data exposed the SFO taking more direct action, however, the figures also revealed that the SFO’s Proceeds from Crime division, responsible for recovering assets from criminal cases, saw its success rate fall dramatically between 2017 and 2018. In total, the watchdog recovered £276,000 from proceeds of crime over the 12 month period in question, just 1% of the £25 million in the previous period.

According to an SFO spokesperson, the figures only tell half the story, however, and a great number of variables are at play for each case investigated. They elaborated that timing of searches is dependent on investigative priorities and “can take a while to come to fruition given the complexity of SFO casework,” while “when considering use of search warrants, we always take into account their necessity or whether other tools may be more effective.”

On top of this, confiscation orders also vary from case to case, meaning the smaller yield by the Proceeds from Crime division may not reflect its efforts. This is because confiscation orders are ultimately determined by a judge, depending on the value of realisable assets of each defendant and amount of money obtained illegally from victims or crime more generally. The SFO spokesperson added that default penalties or prison sentences could be imposed where defendant’s failed to adhere to confiscation orders.

In June 2018, the SFO appointed former FBI lawyer Lisa Osofsky as its new Director. The move was thought by some legal commentators to be aimed at increasing Deferred Prosecution Agreements – a key element of which is to allow corporations to make full reparations – thanks to Osofsky’s prosecution experience.