A LEADING INTERNATIONAL business crime solicitor based in Yorkshire believes fraud investigations are set for a major shake-up following a court ruling.
Aziz Rahman, of business crime experts Rahman Ravelli Solicitors, says a High Court ruling yesterday against the taxpayer-funded Serious Fraud Office (SFO) could spell the end for the anti-corruption agency.
This could mean major changes in the way business crime and complex corruption cases are investigated in the UK. The SFO's future has been under threat for years, following a series of high-profile failed investigations and cuts to its funding.
The High Court ruled yesterday that the SFO used misrepresentation to obtain search warrants unlawfully for the homes and businesses of property tycoons Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz. The two brothers are now reported to be about to sue the SFO for an estimated £100M damages each.
Mr Rahman, who specialises in complex and large-scale complex crime cases, said: “The SFO's track record in investigating and prosecuting fraud has never been a good one. It has never gained the respect of either the police or the Financial Services Authority and, as a result, its future has always looked shaky.
“This ruling shows that the SFO has failed to even carry out its core activities in the right way, which could sound its death knell. This, in turn, could see massive changes in the way fraud is investigated in the UK.
“The SFO has seen its budget cut in recent years to less than half that of the FSA – which is funded by a levy on financial institutions - so the writing has been on the wall for some time. It will either have to be disbanded or beefed up. It cannot continue as it is.””
Rahman Ravelli has successfully represented many clients against the SFO. Two years ago, the SFO failed to secure a conviction against Rahman Ravelli's client in a trial relating to the collapse of Imperial Consolidated – Britain's largest investment fraud case, involving hundreds of millions of pounds.
The Tchenguiz brothers' properties were searched by 135 SFO investigators and police officers in March 2011 as part of inquiries into the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing. Robert Tchenguiz has called the SFO's actions “outrageous and unlawful”.
The SFO has apologised to the brothers and admitted it mishandled the case. It added that “serious mistakes were made in connection with the application for search warrants” but insisted it will continue the investigation with “renewed focus and vigour”.