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Does an under-funded SFO violate UNCAC?

Bloomberg reported this week that an informed but unidentified and unauthorized person, presumably not the director, had revealed that the Serious Fraud Office was preparing to ask the UK’s Treasury to supplement its annual budget of $37 million by more than 50 per cent in connection with its investigation of market-rigging and bribery allegations.

The SFO’s annual budget, less than the cost of a single F-35 Lightning fighter, and its annual requests for supplemental financing, raise the specter that the UK may not be compliant with the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

Article 6 (2) of UNCAC provides that each state party should ensure that bodies responsible for implementing and enforcing anti-corruption policies should grant the body or bodies the necessary independence to enable them to carry out its or their functions effectively and free from any undue influence. Together with the necessary material resources to enable a trained and specialized staff to carry out their anti-corruption functions.

Leaving aside the adequacy of the SFO’s annual budget, the continual requests to the Treasury for supplemental finance raise a real risk that extraneous national considerations may come into play in deciding whether to grant the requested finance. Indeed, it’s highly invidious that any given SFO director may have to consider whether there are sufficient resources available to open and pursue an effective investigation without having to approach the Treasury.

Even allowing for other enforcement agencies, the SFO’s annual budget is indefensible when set against the UK’s GDP and London’s pre-eminence as a financial center. Certainly, it does not merit any comparison with either state or federal enforcement expenditure in the United States.

So if and when the SFO does submit its request for blockbuster finance, it might do no harm to point out the UK’s potential non-compliance with UNCAC.


Alistair Craig, a commercial barrister practicing in London, is a frequent contributor to the FCPA Blog.


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