SFO warns of dwindling resources to fight fraud

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The Independent Online
ROSALINDE WRIGHT, director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), warned that the Government's "community policing" priorities were forcing regional police forces to slim down or even close their own fraud units.

She said that while the SFO had had a good year and was busier than ever, "we need more input from the police ... The drive against burglary, street crime, car crime, is obviously important, but the fight against big organised international crime is losing out."

For instance, Merseyside has merged its fraud squad into its Major Crime Squad, the West Midlands Fraud Squad has been "downsized", while Lancashire has no regional fraud squad at all.

Ms Wright proposed two possible solutions: either create a national fraud squad for the police, controlled by the SFO, or beef up SFO resources. The problem with the second idea is that the SFO is barred from investigating frauds of under pounds 1m.

Ms Wright said there were no problems with the support the SFO receives from the City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police, both of which recognised that fighting fraud in the City is a priority.

"The total cost of fraud each year to the UK has been estimated at around pounds 5bn - 15 times that of burglary," she said.

In the SFO's annual report for the year to 19 July 1999, Ms Wright says the SFO is increasingly being seen as "an experienced agency both here and abroad". More than 20 foreign governments sought the SFO's help last year.

A series of high profile court cases are in the offing. These include the trials of Peter Young, the Morgan Grenfell fund manager; five executives involved with Wickes, the DIY stores chain which suffered accounting irregularities; and several businessmen involved in the Ostrich Farming Corporation debacle.