SFO spends £33m fighting white-collar crime

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The Independent Online

The Serious Fraud Office last year saw the cost of pursuing those guilty of financial scams rise by a quarter on the previous year. That underlines a dramatic increase in white-collar crime, its 2003 annual report published today says.

The Serious Fraud Office last year saw the cost of pursuing those guilty of financial scams rise by a quarter on the previous year. That underlines a dramatic increase in white-collar crime, its 2003 annual report published today says.

The SFO spent £33m in 2003, up from £26.3m in 2002, and it boosted the number of experts working on catching fraudsters both within its own walls and by entering into a joint venture with specialists in the City of London Police.

The SFO said the volume of financial crime was rising, with the value of alleged frauds it investigated last year standing at £1.9bn. It said the sophistication of fraud being committed had risen. As a consequence, the average length of time it took from the start of an investigation to it being transferred to the crown court for trial was 42 months.

While the time period was distorted by two cases in which the SFO had to seek lengthy extradition orders, Robert Wardle, the body's director, said he wanted to radically speed up the process to about 17 months for the average length of an investigation. "With the extra resources we have, we will see more cases being addressed by the SFO and the police and we will do it more quickly," Mr Wardle said.

The SFO brought 14 cases to court in 2003, involving 39 defendants, with 20 of those people being convicted.

Coming after the SFO's official year-end in April, the body has just completed one of its highest-profile cases in recent years, against the two founders of the collapsed finance company Versailles. Fred Clough, its former finance director, who is thought to have made about £19m from Versailles, will have a confiscation order against him handed down by a judge today. There will be a separate confiscation order to claim back some of the assets of his former partner in Versailles, Carl Cushnie, on 25 October. Both men are serving jail terms for defrauding business associates.

The SFO is increasingly seeking to claw back criminals' illegally-gained assets. In 2003, its investigations led to confiscation orders totalling £2.9m being made against eight defendants in five cases.

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