SFO landmark successes may not silence critics
Saturday 05 April 1997
Ever since its founding in the 1980s as the agency to clean up big business frauds, the SFO has rocked from one failure to the next.
There were howls of outrage when Roger Levitt was convicted of fraud and sentenced to just 180 hours' community service. And there was even greater public disillusionment when Kevin and Ian Maxwell were acquitted after an eight-month trial that cost the taxpayer more than pounds 20m.
There was no disguising the delight at the SFO's Elm Street offices this week following the double win. "It's been a great week for the SFO," declared Chris Dickson, case controller for the prosecution of Gokal for $1.2bn of fraud.
The SFO's line is that its future was already assured before this week's successes. They point to the Davy Report two years ago which was accepted by both the Government and the Opposition, which backed the SFO in its present form.
But then came Maxwell, and the old criticisms were aired once again. Was the SFO's structure, using teams of accountants, solicitors and police the right one? Was the evidence produced at trials too complicated for juries to understand? Were the SFO's special powers to require people to produce documents and answer questions too draconian? Would it not be best to just accept that the SFO had failed, and merge into another body such as the Crown Prosecution service or a new financial regulator?
George Staple, the litigation lawyer from Clifford Chance who retires this month as head of the SFO to make way for Rosalinde Wright (previously of the Securities and Futures Authority), admits that Maxwell was a big set-back. But he points out that the SFO has a duty to prosecute all cases of serious fraud where there is even a reasonable chance of success. He points to press criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service's failure to prosecute certain cases where the evidence is not water-tight.
Losing a case does not necessarily mean it was wrong to bring it, he insists. He is delighted at the two successes this week, particularly in terms of the large numbers of victims involved. "But I think the SFO has already shown that it is prosecuting big cases. It's a very effective organisation."
The public's despair at the SFO's fumbling of previous cases like Maxwell, which led some fellow-investigators to dub it "the Serious Farce Office", is surprisingly at odds with perceptions inside many financial regulators.
One regulator commented yesterday: "Inside the regulatory system the SFO is seen as quite successful, and that this success is largely unsung. Obviously the Maxwell and Levitt cases were seen as unsuccessful. But I think on the whole George Staple deserves credit for what he has achieved."
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
iJobs Money & Business
$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer Office...
$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...
Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...