Departing SFO chief says cash needed to fight fraud

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The outgoing boss of the Serious Fraud Office last night expressed "serious concerns" that Government cutbacks to the department's budget will hamper its efforts to attack major white-collar crimes.

Richard Alderman, who is leaving his post in a fortnight after four years as director to be replaced by David Green, said the SFO had suffered a staggering budget cut of 40 per cent since he arrived.

"It has been a big, big problem," he said. "My concern is, of course, that this trend of budget cuts will continue. I am very concerned about how much money David will have at his disposal."

The SFO handles the most serious and complex cases of fraud which, by their nature, are the hardest and costliest to prosecute, he said. "Cases get bigger and bigger all the time and more and more complicated. I am seriously worried the SFO will have difficulty dealing with more cases with ever smaller amounts of money."

The SFO's budget for last year, revealed in its annual review published yesterday, was £36.8m. However, through its prosecutions, it recovered more than £50m of assets from the proceeds of crime, up from the £42.5m the previous year.

Among those were the £29.5m paid by BAE towards educational projects in Tanzania after reaching a controversial settlement with the SFO over a major contract there. The SFO came under severe criticism about the deal, with the judge condemning how BAE had "blanket immunity" for offences committed in the past.

The SFO is also often criticised for not prosecuting enough fraudsters. Mr Alderman repeated his calls for a law that could successfully be used to prosecute the main players behind the banking crisis, where convictions have been practically non-existent.

"What we need is a new law that would cover 'recklessly running a financial institution'," he said. "It's not that I want to put people behind bars, but a new offence will improve corporate behaviour, just like the Bribery Act has improved corporate behaviour."

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