SFO investigations up by 30%

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The Independent Online

George Staple, director of the Serious Fraud Office, said yesterday the number of cases handled by the office since March had risen 30 per cent.

In the past nine months, since an independent government committee recommended giving the SFO more powers and asked it to take on more cases, the number of cases being handled had increased from 50 to 65, he said.

He said that there were two main reasons for the extra work: the SFO was taking on cases of a lower value - the trigger point for an investigation has been reduced from pounds 5m to pounds 1m; and the SFO's Section 2 powers - which compel the production of information to assist an investigation - had been extended to investigations overseas.

"There has been a substantial demand from overseas for these investigative powers to be used. Since February, we have had 19 requests for assistance from overseas authorities, issued 31 Section 2 notices and carried out seven searches."

During the past year the SFO has convicted nine defendants after trials and in each trial during the year the principal defendant has been convicted.

The 10-year prison sentence handed out to Graham Dunford Ford, a solicitor, earlier this week equalled a record for an SFO fraud case set earlier by the sentence given to Peter Clowes of Barlow Clowes, the investment firm. Other convictions obtained during the year include a nine-year prison sentence for Muhammed Naviede, the former head of a Manchester-based trade finance company. He was convicted of fraudulent trading, obtaining property and services by deception and making false statements.

Michael Ward, the former chairman and chief executive of European Leisure, was jailed for a year in September after being convicted of falsifying a document and making a false and misleading statement contrary to Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987.

One of the SFO's largest cases, the trial of the Maxwell brothers, will continue in the new year.