City fraud cases fall as cutbacks hamper SFO

The SFO is in no shape financially to deal with its caseload

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The Independent Online

The number of raids carried out by the Serious Fraud Office halved last year despite an increase in the number of tip-offs by whistleblowers, the law firm Pinsent Masons has claimed.

The SFO, which faces an uncertain future despite leading the conviction of former UBS trader Tom Hayes for Libor-rigging last week, made 13 raids in the year ending 31 March, compared with 26 in the same period in 2014.

Barry Vitou, a partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “A sharp fall in the number of raids executed by the SFO does not, unfortunately, signal lower white-collar crime rates. The figure simply reflects the fact that the organisation is in no shape financially to deal with its caseload and effectively pursue new leads.

“Raids are a key way for the SFO to collect evidence on which to build their case against businesses or individuals. It is vital, therefore, that the resources are there to carry them out. Fraud, bribery and corruption are notoriously difficult to prove; raids allow the seizure of material which often proves central to securing a conviction.”

Pinsent Masons said that the SFO’s most recent annual report projects further cuts to its budget. Spending will be reduced by 34 per cent, from £69.1m in 2014-15 to a planned £45.1m for 2015-16.

The firm also claims that a series of “failed investigations” – including raids on on the premises of Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz in March 2011, which led to millions in compensation – may have left the SFO “cautious to act”.

In response, the body, which is currently led by David Green, said: “We reject utterly the suggestion that ‘a series of failed investigations’ has left the SFO ‘cautious to act’. Our conviction rate fluctuates; last financial year it was 78 per cent. We could raise it further by taking on easier cases, but that is not what the SFO is for. Our current caseload, including investigations concerning GSK, Barclays, Tesco, Rolls Royce and financial market rate rigging surely does not suggest an over-cautious approach.”

Last week, Mr Green conceded that the SFO could be folded into a larger National Crime Agency under plans being considered by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

However, he has also warned that it plans to target more bankers in the wake of Mr Hayes’ conviction. These new charges will come on top of the 11 men who are currently awaiting trial for allegedly rigging the inter-bank lending rate, which is used to fix the cost of borrowing on trillions of pounds worth of mortgages, loans and derivatives.

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