SFO chief defends 80% record on convictions

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Indy Politics
THE SERIOUS Fraud Office should not be judged on a minority of high-profile failures when it had secured convictions in 80 per cent of cases, George Staple, its director, said last night.

He told the cross-party Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that the SFO had secured at least one conviction in more than 80 per cent of the 127 cases it had dealt with in its six years of operation. The organisation has been strongly criticised over its handling of the Guinness trials, Blue Arrow, Polly Peck, whose former chairman Asil Nadir jumped bail and fled to Cyprus last year, and the Levitt Group.

In a discussion about the 180 hours of community service handed down to Roger Levitt for fraudulent trading with intent to deceive, Mr Staple said that although the SFO played no role in sentencing, he was sometimes personally disappointed by the sentences passed by the courts. He emphasised that even where there had been criticism, he believed that prosecution had brought about changes in behaviour in the City.

He said he backed earlier disclosure of the defence case, which was recommended by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice but is not included in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill currently before Parliament.

Mr Staple said he was conscious of the 'media dimension' involved when the SFO began investigations into individuals and companies that were later dropped.

But he said that there was a 'very strong, very legitimate' interest in high-profile cases. 'We have no means of controlling the media attention which these actions attract.'