The Times said this week that a new report blames the overall lack of a coherent U.K. government strategy for impeding the fight against overseas corruption and recommends a new ‘super’ agency that would knock the SFO out of its lead role.
In a series of stories behind the Times’s paywall, reporter Alex Spence described the report prepared by officials at the Department for International Development. He said it ‘offers a damning assessment of British efforts to tackle corruption, but its proposed solution will be seen as a direct threat to the Serious Fraud Office and will reignite the row over its future.’
The report criticizes the lack of clarity among the various agencies responsible for investigating graft, including the SFO, the City of London Police, and the Metropolitan Police. Special blame is directed at the SFO, Spence said, for causing confusion through ‘its recent approach to corporate corruption cases, whereby it has encouraged companies to come forward and report bribery in return for avoiding criminal prosecution.’
Spence said ‘unshakable fatalism seems to loom over the Serious Fraud Office’s base at Elm Street these days.’
‘Losing its lead role on corruption to another agency now,’ Spence said, ‘would prompt fresh speculation about whether the SFO has a future.’
Last year the agency fought off plans by Home Secretary Theresa May ‘to break it up and hive off its investigative division to the National Crime Agency, an FBI-style organisation scheduled to come into operation next year.’
Even before the latest government report, insiders at the SFO had fresh reasons to worry.
David Green was appointed to be the SFO’s new director. In a prior government role, Green merged the Revenue & Customs’ prosecution office into the Crown Prosecution Service, Spence said. So some wonder if Green’s real mission at the SFO is to close it down.
Alex Spence can be contacted here.