SFO's corruption fight remains a top priority, Osofsky says

07 June 2019 00:00 by Martin Coyle

The Serious Fraud Office still sees prosecuting corruption as a “very big priority,” its head Lisa Osofsky told MLex, despite the dearth in new bribery cases since she took the top job. 

The director of the UK’s chief fraud prosecutor insisted that the SFO had “no intention” of investing “fewer resources” in tackling corruption, speaking on the sidelines of an event in Oslo.

Since Osofsky succeeded David Green in August last year, the SFO hasn’t opened a big-ticket bribery investigation.

A probe into suspected accounting fraud at cake chain Patisserie Holdings has begun, while separate fraud investigations into London Capital & Finance and biodiesel trading company Greenergy are underway.

Osofsky hinted that the SFO has bribery cases bubbling in the background. She said the public wouldn’t necessarily know which cases the agency is working on before they are announced.

Last year, Osofsky told UK lawmakers that the SFO would devote half of its energies to prosecuting corruption cases. This “absolutely” still stands, she told MLex yesterday.

The prosecutor's investigation into London Capital & Finance, opened in tandem with the Financial Conduct Authority in March, came following a referral by the UK’s National Economic Crime Centre.

The NECC, which started operating in November, is responsible for coordinating the UK's approach to fighting financial crime and brings together seven agencies, including the National Crime Agency, the SFO and the FCA.

Osofsky insisted that the SFO wouldn’t be pushed into taking on cases that aren’t suitable for the agency.

“I still decide what I open and what I don’t open. I will make a determination where the best home for a case is,” she said. “London Capital & Finance is a real SFO case.”

LCF collapsed in January, leaving nearly 12,000 investors who put 236 million pounds ($300 million) into the bond firm out of pocket. The SFO made a number of arrests in March.

— US cooperation —

Turning to international cases, Osofsky, an American-born British national, said the SFO was working “very well” with US agencies on cases. “I find the US to be 100 percent supportive of our efforts,” she said.

The SFO has made some senior level appointments of US officials in a bid to improve its relationship with US prosecutors. “The criminals would like us to work in silos and fail to share information,” she said.

At the conference, Osofsky also talked about the difficulties the SFO faces in getting evidence on corruption from some countries. She pledged to use legislative tools, such as Unexplained Wealth Orders, to target the wealth of corrupt individuals when the agency hits a brick wall in investigations. It’s very “Draconian” legislation, she said.

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