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Change of leadership at the SFO

Following a tumultuous 2018 for the Serious Fraud Office, BLM’s white-collar crime expert Iskander Fernandez addresses the agency’s recent investigations and whether a change in leadership will steady the department’s ship.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) suffered a troubling 2018. Its high-profile investigation into two former Tesco executives, after allegations the retailer overstated profits into the millions, collapsed in December. The trial judge said the “prosecution case was so weak it should not be left for a jury’s consideration”. The investigation is said to have cost an estimated £10m.

The SFO has also since scaled back a probe into its investigation of bribery and corruption allegations at Rolls-Royce. Inquiries into a number of individuals have been dropped, two years after a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) was approved by Southwark Crown Court. DPAs defer the prosecution of a company in exchange for the company complying with financial and non-financial conditions.

Supporters of the SFO argue that the scaling back of the Rolls-Royce investigation is only right if the evidence is not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction; critics on the other hand point to the earlier troubles surrounding the SFO’s Tesco investigation, which also involved a DPA.

This is an extract from the Business & Management Magazine, Issue 272, March 2019.

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