Naming ex-FBI lawyer to lead UK's SFO would risk opening old wounds

2 May 2018 10:31am

30 April 2018. By Martin Coyle.

Former FBI lawyer Lisa Osofsky has been tipped as a likely candidate to take the helm of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, currently without a permanent chief executive following David Green's departure on April 20.

She would bring a wealth of experience to the corruption-fighting agency, gained both by serving in public bodies — including her role as deputy general counsel at the FBI — and the corporate world.

US national Osofsky is currently managing director at financial-crime consultancy Exiger in London, and previously played a key role in monitoring HSBC in the US following its deferred prosecution agreement for money-laundering failures in 2012. She is also a qualified UK barrister, and served as Goldman Sachs’s money laundering reporting officer.

But her stance in favor of merging the SFO with the UK’s National Crime Agency could disturb a newly found calm  and reopen the contentious debate.

Osofsky declined to comment on her possible appointment, but if she does take over, one of her first tasks will be to explain comments last year suggesting her support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to bring the SFO under the wing of the larger NCA.

The debate generated much anxiety within the SFO, but a balance was restored last autumn when the government effectively scrapped the plans.

To get off on the right foot, Osofsky would therefore need to be unequivocal from the start that she is a strong advocate for an independent SFO, free from government interference.

Quick appointment needed

The Attorney General’s Office has said an announcement on the agency’s new head and start date would be made in due course. This needs to be very soon.

Allowing the SFO to drift for too long without a permanent head could harm its effectiveness and undermine the benefits of a government move this month to boost its core yearly budget from 34.3 million pounds ($47 million) to 52.7 million pounds.

It is unclear how long the interim head, the SFO's current Chief Operating Officer Mark Thompson, will be in charge — and whether he will be able to make any meaningful decisions on high-profile cases.

Despite pledging to issue charges on some of the SFO’s larger cases, Green ran out of time before his April 20 departure.

While he didn’t specify which cases were ripe for decisions, the agency has ongoing probes against drugs company GlaxoSmithKline and former employees at engine maker Rolls-Royce.

There is a risk that decisions on these cases could drag on, causing further uncertainty for the companies and individuals concerned.

	Eliot Gao