The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has expressed concern that its ability to tackle international corruption may suffer because of Brexit.
In its annual report, the SFO states that “loss of access to EU measures and tools arising from Brexit” may have an adverse effect on its role as an investigator and prosecutor.
When Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, it will no longer be part of the European arrest warrant system. Britain has also not implemented the European Investigation Order – which replaces most EU legislation regarding the transfer of evidence between member states - in the prescribed time. The Serious Fraud Office said this represents a major risk for its future operations.
The EIO is based on EU member states giving mutual recognition to each other’s judicial decisions and aims to ensure the most efficient movement of evidence between states. It also allows for witnesses to be summoned to give video evidence to a court, enables certain covert investigations to be conducted and would allow the SFO to intercept foreign telecommunications.
The SFO’s annual report says that it received 48 requests from overseas partners for mutual legal assistance in the past year.
Aziz Rahman of Rahman Ravelli said that the Brexit implications are just the latest challenge faced by the SFO.
He added: “This concern about the harm that Brexit could do to the SFO comes at a time when the organisation has already been enduring some testing times.
“Before the election, the Prime Minister announced she was set to disband the SFO and hand its duties to the National Crime Agency. That plan seems to have been quietly dropped.
“But the SFO is operating in the knowledge that there is a belief, among at least some politicians, that its job could be done better by others.
“It has also had to manage its affairs while its core funding has been cut by a third since 2008; although the government has granted it blockbuster funding in recent years so that it can carry out major investigations such as Libor and Rolls-Royce.
“Such issues, however, should not obscure the fact that the SFO has a unique range of powers under the Criminal Justice Act. Anyone facing investigation by it has to respond intelligently and methodically and seek the relevant legal expertise.’’
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