Serious Fraud Office
SFO Annual Report and Accounts 2018-2019
The SFO Annual Report and Accounts 2018-2019 was today laid before Parliament.
Statement from the Director
I present the Annual Report for the Serious Fraud Office for the reporting year 2018-19.
I became Director in August 2018. Since my arrival, I have worked closely with the SFO’s determined and dedicated staff: immersing myself in our casework and considering, with colleagues, how we will meet the challenges of a shrinking world and a constantly evolving technological landscape. We must keep pace with these challenges and remain focused on our fight against fraud and corruption that does significant harm to its victims, the public and the reputation of the United Kingdom as a safe place to do business.
Immediately prior to my arrival, the Chief Operating Officer, Mark Thompson, had been the SFO’s Interim Director. I want to thank Mark for his excellent work during that time, for his willingness to take on difficult issues and especially for his sincere commitment to the well-being and development of our staff.
During the year, we opened 11 new criminal investigations, five of which are now in the public domain. These include allegations of corruption related to Ultra Electronic Holdings’ conduct of business in Algeria, of false accounting at Patisserie Valerie, of investment fraud conducted by property developers in Liverpool and Manchester and by individuals associated with London Capital & Finance, and of biodiesel fuel trading irregularities at Greenergy.
We have charged eight individuals, including three former employees of Güralp Systems for conspiring to make corrupt payments to a Korean public official, four in connection with our investigation into alleged corrupt activities at Unaoil and one for alleged EURIBOR rate rigging.
Given our caseload, which consists of a relatively small number of large cases, our conviction rate can vary significantly. This year, 17 of 32 defendants were convicted giving a conviction rate of 53% by defendant and 86% by case. A significant success was the conviction of six individuals who engaged in a £17m fraudulent scheme to install solar panels. Many of the 1,500 victims were vulnerable retired people who were manipulated by these fraudsters. 2018-19 also saw the conclusion of a long-running investigation into corruption at Alstom. The two convictions obtained this year brought the total in this case to five (two corporate and three individuals). Also notable this year were convictions obtained in the F.H. Bertling, Afren and EURIBOR cases.
Acquittals included individuals in the case regarding accounting practices at Tesco Stores Ltd. The corporate entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in 2017.
In November, the UK’s first DPA successfully concluded. We confirmed that Standard Bank plc had fully complied with the terms of the agreement, which had followed the first charges under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010. We aim to build upon this with greater private sector cooperation and we seek to provide transparency regarding what a company should expect if it decides to self-report.
This year has seen the launch of the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC). The SFO is a partner in the NECC, which coordinates the UK’s response to economic crime. The London Capital & Finance case noted above is the first to be referred to the SFO by the NECC.
We continue to increase and improve our use of technology. Nearly 95% of our evidence is digital, and we are leveraging powerful tools and emerging technologies to process it more effectively. Our goal is to increase the pace and focus of our investigations. This includes using technology-assisted review (TAR) and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to manage familiar and traditional investigative and legal processes, including document review and disclosure.
The Criminal Finances Act 2017 introduced new powers to facilitate the recovery of the proceeds of crime, including Account Forfeiture Orders and Unexplained Wealth Orders. This year, the SFO secured its first Account Forfeiture Order, enabling the forfeiture of £1.5m, which represented the spoils of a mortgage fraud scheme. There will be more to follow. In total, our proceeds of crime team has secured over £10m in new financial orders, with payments received against orders of more than £8m.
Finally, there have been some significant senior personnel changes. I have taken steps to increase the number of non-executive directors from three to four so that we benefit from a broader range of experience and expertise and strengthen the challenge and assurance function. I would like to thank Simon Duckworth OBE DL, whose service as a non-executive director concluded during the year, and to welcome Emir Feisal JP and Martin Spencer. Further changes to non-executive director personnel will take place in the coming year. I have recruited a new General Counsel, Sara Lawson QC, who brings a wealth of experience to her role of providing oversight and quality control on our cases and trial preparation. Former case controller John Kielty has been promoted to a new SCS role as Chief Intelligence Officer. I am also pleased to welcome Liz Corrin as Head of Corporate Services.
The SFO remains firmly focused on undertaking the effective investigation and prosecution of top-tier serious and complex economic crime. I am eager for the SFO to remain a trusted leader in this fight.
Serious Fraud Office
16 July 2019
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