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SFO has makeover, and it’ll scare you

At a bribery and compliance confab last week in London, the SFO’s Alun Milford hit the reset button for the UK Bribery Act, warning that his law enforcement agency will start acting like . . . . a law enforcement agency.

Milford, general counsel of the Serious Fraud Office, said director David Green sees the SFO ‘simply as an investigator and prosecutor of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption.’ Under the prior leadership, Milford said, ‘the SFO’s role had become blurred, giving rise to the perception that it did not have the stomach for prosecution and preferred risk-free settlements in civil recovery cases.’

Director Green has ‘moved emphatically away from any notion that we are also somehow also a regulator or an educator or an adviser,’ Milford said.

The general counsel explained how the SFO will decide what overseas bribery to prosecute, and how it will meet the work load.

On the topic of facilitating payments, he said the SFO was withdrawing its previous guidance, which was seen as soft and fuzzy. (Milford also took a swipe at the U.S. law for allowing grease payments.)

Our law is clear: such payments are and always have been illegal and it is a matter of indifference to the SFO as a prosecutor in this jurisdiction that the law of another country (say that of the United States as contained in Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act) may be different. The old SFO guidance, which did not apply to other public prosecutors, promised no prosecution if the company was “moving towards a zero tolerance policy” on facilitation payments, but did not clarify what precisely that phrase meant. Indeed, the elastic quality of those words caused the OECD some consternation. With the withdrawal of that policy we have, once again, returned to a position of consistency with other public prosecutors. . . . So, no watering down in prosecution policy then.

Milford said the Bribery Act is here to stay — a good thing in his view. ‘It is worth reminding ourselves of quite how harmful corruption is,’ he said. 

Why do countries around the world with the highest corruption rates have the lowest standards of living?

‘That is because corruption corrodes the fabric of society and public institutions,’ Milford said. ‘It is often at the root of conflict and instability. It is bad for development, bad for poor people and bad for business. It causes huge damage to developing countries, diverting and wasting precious resources. Poor people feel the effects more harshly than the better off. The uncertainties of bribery stifle business development and inward investment. Perhaps we can agree on this if on nothing else: it is surely worth taking a stand against something this bad.’

Alun Milford’s full remarks on October 15 to the World Bribery and Corruption Compliance Forum in London are here.


Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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