Serious fraud up, says SFO

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The Independent Online
LARGE-SCALE fraud is on the increase again after dipping last year, the Serious Fraud Office said yesterday as it published its annual report.

George Staple, director, said the SFO's workload had fallen from 57 active cases, involving a total of pounds 6bn, at the beginning of 1993 to 48 at the end of last year, but was back up to 52.

'The types of fraud have not changed, but there are fewer market manipulation cases. This reflects the stage we are at in the economic cycle, as the large City frauds of two to three years ago have now run their course.'

Mr Staple used the SFO's annual report to hit back at criticism of its handling of several high-profile cases, including Asil Nadir and Roger Levitt. There have been calls from politicians over the past year for the SFO's abolition.

Mr Staple said the SFO had obtained convictions in 20 of 23 trials concluded during the year. These had involved 54 defendants of whom 32 had been convicted.

'The system is working and we should persevere with it,' he said.

The SFO's special powers to require individuals to answer questions or produce documents was invaluable, said Mr Staple, but the number of times the powers had been used declined from 931 in 1992 to 657 in 1993.

The Royal Comission on Justice's review on fraud is also expected to spell out whether the SFO will merge with the Fraud Investigation Unit that handles regional frauds.

But the SFO may be a candidate to become an agency separate from government under Whitehall's Next Steps initiative. Mr Staple said that would mean far more work being farmed out to the private sector, and more control over its budget.