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Serious Fraud Office reports another successful year. But does it tell us the full story?

15 July 2012

Rahman Ravelli Solicitors noted the SFO’s end-of-year report. But, unlike the SFO, we feel that the report does not tell the full story of the organisation’s problems

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is saying that it has had another successful year, with larger prison sentences for those convicted and £50M in alleged proceeds of criminal activity recovered.

As a result, it feels it has much to shout about. The value of assets seized is up on the previous year’s £42.5M total. And it seems to believe that it is actually becoming more of a force in tackling serious business crime.

But at Rahman Ravelli, we deal regularly with the SFO on our clients’ behalf. And we know that there are some things that the SFO is rather less happy to make a noise about.

For a start, its 73% conviction rate is down on the previous year’s 80% and is the lowest for four years. This is at a time when the SFO and other authorities now have unprecedented power to track people and their assets in pursuit of a conviction.

Only 18 months ago, Rahman Ravelli represented Lincoln Fraser as the SFO made a second attempt to convict him over the collapse of his £250M Imperial Consolidated Investment Group. Despite an eight-year investigation costing the taxpayer an estimated £10M, our client walked from court a free man after one of the largest fraud trials in UK history. Our successful defence of our client in the Imperial case shows that the SFO is not as victorious as it often claims to be. So perhaps it should spend a little less time congratulating itself and a little more looking at how it approaches cases. Looking at the headlines, a grand total of £50M in assets recovered may seem impressive. But there are a couple of points that need to be made about this figure.

The first is that we do not know what percentage success rate this £50M figure represents. Did they seize everything they went after this year? Or does £50M represent a very small success rate? And secondly, with all the powers at its disposal, the SFO should find it relatively easy to seize assets

SFO Director Richard Alderman stepped down by May 2012, believing it is a stronger, more efficient body than when he took over in 2008. But new SFO Director David Green has admitted the SFO needs to re-examine the type of case it takes on and take a “surgical’’ rather than “sprawling’’ approach to investigations.

The SFO may well have gained strength in some areas but there is no doubt that it still has some glaring weaknesses.


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