Almost six years ago I wrote a post for the FCPA Blog called “At The SFO, Green Shoots.” The post was about the appointment of David Green CB QC as the new head of the UK Serious Fraud Office.
David took the helm at one of the most difficult times for the agency, and there have been many.
Few would question that he has been a success — restating the offices purpose to prosecute serious and complex fraud and bribery cases, and actually prosecuting substantial cases successfully, clearing out the mess that was the Tchenguiz investigation, overseeing the implementation of both the Bribery Act and pushing through the first deferred prosecution agreements, restoring trust with the judiciary and foreign prosecutors and making significant charging decisions in Tesco’s and most recently Barclays are no small measures of success.
Difficult enough tasks with limited time, limited budget, and your best resource being perpetually picked off by U.S. law firms on seven figure salaries. But even more difficult when undertaken against a background of some serious lobbying by the then Home Secretary and now Prime Minister to integrate the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency.
Rational argument from serious commentators — including a number of former Attorney Generals — and the results of previous reviews, did not influence the Prime Minister’s intent.
Even as the largest-ever financial sanction in criminal history was agreed in Rolls Royce, and £500 million hit the Treasury, the agency’s future remained in doubt.
Then came the election and the loss of a Parliamentary majority, and then the Queen’s speech, in which there was no mention of the SFO’s abolition.
But still, the Prime Minister refused to commit — a spokesperson reported as having said that the “Government will consult widely on the next steps forward.”
Now, quietly, it would appear that the Prime Minister has finally given up on her ambition.
Very senior Whitehall sources have told me that the Director’s job is about to be advertised.
The term — five years.
Quietly, but emphatically, the Government has assured the SFO of its future and the term should guarantee some serious candidates to take on the role. Ultimately the Lady was for turning and part of David’s considerable legacy — five more years.
Bill Waite is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog. He’s one of the founders of The Risk Advisory Group, established in 1997 with the objective of building Europe’s leading independent risk management consultancy. He serves as the group’s CEO and general counsel. He formerly practiced as a criminal barrister before joining the UK Serious Fraud Office in 1991 as a prosecutor. He can be contacted here.