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New Economic Crime Bill includes plans to expand SFO’s investigative powers

New Economic Crime Bill includes plans to expand SFO’s investigative powers.

Yesterday saw the first reading of the Government’s Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill.

The Bill includes provisions to expand the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) section 2 powers, which the SFO uses to compel suspected criminals, financial institutions like banks and/or technology companies, to share information or documents in relation to a suspected crime.

Yesterday’s Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill outlined changes that would allow these powers to be used in all potential SFO cases at the pre-investigative stage – in other words, before an investigation has been formally opened by the SFO.

This amendment would remove the limitations placed upon use of these powers in s.2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which only permits the SFO to use these powers at the pre-investigation stage in cases of international bribery and corruption, but currently not in relation to suspected fraud or domestic bribery and corruption.

If granted, the new powers would mean evidence can be gathered at an earlier stage in any SFO case, reducing the agency’s reliance on third parties voluntarily providing information and enabling us to obtain material from institutions such as banks, who are currently unable to share certain information due to confidentiality obligations. This will speed up the process for gathering information, allowing the SFO to open investigations more quickly. This in turn can lead to freezing proceeds of crime more quickly, to protect that money for victims.

John Kielty, Chief Intelligence Officer at the SFO, said:

“The expansion of our ‘section 2A powers’ as set out in this Bill is a welcome step for the SFO in the challenging fight against fraud, bribery and corruption.

“These legislative changes would have a positive impact on our operating capability, not only shortening the length of our cases, meaning justice for victims is delivered more quickly, but also reducing the number of potential investors at risk and helping us secure key evidence at pace.”

The SFO is prosecuting six cases in the courts this year, representing £564m worth of fraud. Three of these have already concluded – sentencing four criminals to a total of 36-years imprisonment.


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