SFO could lose separate status

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT will decide by the end of the year whether to merge the Serious Fraud Office with the Crown Prosecution Service or to hand the investigation of big fraud cases over to the SFO.

In an exhaustive review of the subject published yesterday, a five- strong reporting team drawn from the Treasury, the CPS, the SFO and the City of London Police says: 'There are important benefits to be gained from locating the new organisation within the CPS.'

This would hand the SFO over to Barbara Mills, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who formerly headed the SFO.

The review was launched in September 1993 to tackle confusion over which agencies should investigate which frauds and to look at ways of saving money. It warns that there would be 'considerable presentational difficulties' in abolishing the SFO as a separate department.

'Although the name SFO could be retained . . . any change to the present status of the SFO could be seen as a weakening of the Government's commitment to the investigation and prosecution of serious fraud,' it adds.

The report says that a takeover by the CPS would have several advantages, including 'the administrative and policy support structure available in the CPS, reduced administrative costs and greater flexibility to vary resources'.

Such a move would need big changes to legislation to enable the CPS to use the SFO's controversial Section 2 powers, which remove the right to silence.