UK Serious Fraud Office Making Small Gains

April 29th, 2010

The UK Serious Fraud Office released some good news this month:

The Serious Fraud Office has significantly increased its conviction rate in cases brought before the courts in the past year, according to figures it is releasing in advance of its annual report which will be published in the summer.

The conviction rate, measured as defendants convicted over the number tried, has risen from 78% the previous year to 91%. At the same time the agency achieved a 100% success rate in trials where at least one defendant was convicted. The previous year this was measured at 94%.

Success in trials has been matched by the SFO’s increasing ability to secure assets from fraudsters and return money to victims. Some £4 million has been paid in compensation directly to victims. The figure was significantly less than a million pounds last year. Fines against companies amounted to nearly £12 million pounds this year, having risen from zero the year before. The agency has managed to seize nearly a quarter of a million pounds in cash since November 2009, using new powers to be able to carry out searches for cash and retain the money as an investigation continues.

The SFO has begun measuring the cost of running the organisation with a view to providing value for money. Everyone in the country pays 73 pence towards the SFO’s work – this compares to 83 pence last year. The SFO will aim to provide better value next year.

SFO Director, Richard Alderman said: “With reduced funding we continue to work in innovative ways. This year has seen a number of firsts for us, including the first every UK prosecution for breaching UN sanctions and use of cash seizure and other powers to return more money to victims of fraud and corruption. It has been a good year but next year we plan to do better.”

While these gains are definitely encouraging, they raise more than a few eyebrows. The Serious Fraud Office did not impose a single pound in fines in 2008? Isn’t that their job? Despite a significantly reduced budget, the Serious Fraud Office demonstrated this year that will, not resources, determines how much success will have in clamping down on corruption.

While the Serious Fraud Office has seen their mandate expanded in recent years, they still lack some important things, like arrest power. While the recession-induced reform is welcome, the UK needs the SFO to be further empowered if it hopes to do any more than cursory law enforcement when dealing with corruption, bribery, and fraud.

Written by EJ Fagan

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