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With the UK’s Serious Fraud Office having dropped another investigation, Rahman Ravelli weighs up the merits of the agency’s approach to pursuing cases.

6 July 2020

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has ended its probe into bank note producer De La Rue and alleged corruption in South Sudan. 

The SFO has stated that an extensive investigation and a review of the available evidence had led it to determine that the case did not meet the agency’s test for bringing charges. Under the SFO rules, the evidence must be sufficient to secure a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant and the prosecution must be in the public interest. In a statement, De La Rue said it was pleased that the SFO has closed its investigation and that no further action was being taken.

De La Rue is just the latest case to be dropped by the SFO. Less than two months ago, the SFO closed its bribery probe into engineering company ABB’s dealings with oil services provider Unaoil. This year has also seen the SFO end lengthy investigations into Euribor, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce.

The SFO may be freeing up resources in anticipation of cases arising from the coronavirus pandemic. But while the SFO has been dropping investigations it has also been unable to gain convictions in a number of cases where charges have been brought. Barclays, Guralp Systems, Sarclad and Tesco are all recent examples.

SFO Director Lisa Osofsky has emphasised her belief in the importance of co-operation in gaining results. But the gains have been slender so far, although it should be said that many cases that have been dropped or unsuccessful during her reign were taken on before her arrival at the SFO nearly two years ago. Yet in her first full year the number of new SFO cases dropped by 50%. The SFO could argue that it is bringing only the strongest cases to trial. But its failure to secure convictions in numerous cases casts doubt on this.

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