James Moore: We need a shake-up on white-collar crime after the latest debacle
Outlook Oh dear. It seems the Serious Fraud Office has mucked it up again. Surely the better acronym for what Reuters yesterday described as "the UK's top fraud busting agency" without a hint of irony would be the SFU (I won't spell out the Anglo-Saxon).
The latest embarrassment concerns Robert Tchenguiz, the property mogul, and it's a peach. The High Court ruled that the warrant the SFU obtained to search his premises as part of its inquiry into the collapse of the Icelandic bank Kaupthing was unlawfully obtained through "misrepresentation and non-disclosure". Ouch.
The fall of that bank was an ugly affair – although, given the cesspits that have been uncovered in so many places since then, it almost seems like small beer these days.
Still the SFU, which only narrowly avoided being pulled apart last year, has some serious questions to answer. For example: Did someone at the SFU quietly say "go get 'im" to its case officer in light of the fact that Mr Tchenguiz's high profile would make him a good-looking scalp for an organisation in need of some positive publicity?
Or was this an instance of the case officer over stepping his bounds (badly) in the hunt for a collar that would make his career? Actually, does it matter that much? The net result of it is the same: the SFU made an ass of itself. Again. How long will it now be before it gives the whole thing up as a bad job. Like it did with the investigation into Mr Tchenguiz' brother Vincent.
This sort of thing makes it extremely difficult for proponents of more power for fraud cops, and I'm one of them, to make their case.
It is an argument that desperately needs to be made.
Setting aside this mess of a "case" against Mr Tchenguiz, it stands as a mark of shame on this country that if you commit crimes in a hoodie, you risk the loss of your liberty while if you perpetrate them in a suit, it often seems that you're unlucky if you lose your job. So long as you don't attract the attention of the Americans armed with that extradition treaty they're so fond of. There is a strong argument to suggest that the entire legal architecture surrounding white-collar crime needs shaking up. That the deck is far too heavily weighted in favour of the miscreant.
Trouble is, when the fraud cops behave like the Keystone cops no one's going to be all that keen to hand them popguns, much less the machine guns they and their sometimes similarly inept colleagues at the Financial Services Authority need to clean up the cancer of corruption that has metastasised across the City of London.
David Green, the new top fraudbuster at the top fraudbusting agency, has pledged to recharge its "corporate self-respect" and lead it to the top of its game as a major crime-fighting agency. To turn the SFU back into the SFO, then. If yesterday is any indication, he is going to have his hands full.
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