Sara Lawson QC speaking at Cambridge Symposium on Economic Crime 2019

3 Sep 2019 01:48 PM

Sara Lawson QC, General Counsel of the Serious Fraud Office, speaking at the Cambridge Symposium on Economic Crime 2019.

The risks facing us today and how they may impact on stability and security

I am delighted to be here, for the first time, speaking on behalf of the Serious Fraud Office. You have heard from our Director about what we have been doing; building on the work of Sir David and his team who, amongst other things, pioneered the use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements and, importantly, made the case for the survival of the SFO so eloquently, not only in words but in deeds. That is to say, by taking on the formidable cases which could only be pursued with the tools and the structure of the SFO.

I have joined an organisation with dedicated and talented teams of investigators and lawyers (as directed by the Roskill model). We prosecute the most serious and complicated types of fraud – as well as bribery and corruption too. As you know, we focus on the most difficult and the most complex criminality crossing many international borders. We also focus, at the same time, on tracing and securing the ill-gotten gains from such criminality. In fact, we have a whole Division dedicated to that very task.

It perhaps goes without saying that our aim is to punish crime and, therefore, to deter it. As we all know, the risks facing us today can, and do, impact on the stability and security of all of us.

The risks we face include ever-more convoluted schemes by which to tell lies and steal money… from individuals (such as our investor witnesses who have lost their life savings) right up to multi-national businesses who have lost out on valuable contracts because of bribery and corruption. And when Governments are defrauded those who have lost are, of course, widespread too.

Our caseload displays all flavours of fraud and corruption. We see pension fraud schemes, we see Ponzi schemes and we see money laundering. You will know that investment scams fall in and out of fashion. There was a time when wine investment frauds were common. More recently we’ve been investigating allegations that some green investment schemes – solar panels, biofuels, forestry planting – are not always the win – win propositions they seem.

The individual defendants in our cases can have many nationalities. It is not just the reputation of the City of London and UK which is at stake. The companies too can have many associated subsidiaries all over the world.

The damage done in scams is self-evident. Wherever we can, we identify and freeze the proceeds of crime in the hope of returning them. This has the added incentive to us of making crime not pay, or not pay so much!

As the Director said yesterday, we also continue to build international relationships to help detect, and ultimately, to help prevent fraud.

Our allies are – other prosecutors, police forces and the public sector. Our allies can also include the private sector – specifically the international business community.

You may think that the private sector should want there to be appropriate consequences for employees or agents who have strayed, who have damaged their employers’ reputations and who have corrupted markets.

Bribery does corrupt the markets. It can turn easily into a race to the bottom. How can an honest company compete with those who pay bribes? Business needs a level playing field in which to operate. Firms with ethics and integrity deserve to win work on their merits by fair competition.

So, criminals can be deterred when we take action.

But Economic crime can also be affected if the private sector actively prevents bribery and corruption by companies. Failing to prevent such things is now an offence for British companies.

Our current laws have given powerful incentives to companies to be our allies in stopping this behaviour and, therefore, to be our allies in the international fight against fraud and corruption. In fact, Parliament made it a defence to a section 7 Bribery Act offence if an organisation puts in place adequate procedures to prevent bribery.

We are in this fight against crime together now…

In July this year you may have seen the publication of the Economic Crime Plan 2019-2022. It is (and I quote) a plan which, “provides information on action being taken by the public and private sectors to ensure that the UK cannot be abused for economic crime”.

The plan states, (and I quote again) “Economic crime is a significant threat to the security and prosperity of the UK”. It adds that 1 in 15 members of the UK public is a victim of fraud each year.

The Plan lists 7 priority areas agreed in January 2019 by the Economic Crime Strategic Board, which includes the SFO as a partner agency. The plan relies in large part on the newly established NECC – National Economic Crime Centre. This work with the UK prosecution agencies and involves on-going collaboration.

The 7 priority areas are –

That shows you some current examples of how the agencies are tackling economic crime together. The partnership is set to continue and to strengthen.

Coming back to the SFO – Some of you may have seen that we recently issued Internal Guidance on Corporate Co-operation to assist in deciding whether a company can be offered a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. Prosecutors are instructed to take the nature and extent of co-operation into account both under that Guidance and under the DPA Code of Practice. Those wanting more details can look at our website.

Well, I have been warned, not only that I am being timed in what I say to you, but also that “less is more”. So in that spirit I will conclude by saying – what an honour it is to be amongst such distinguished delegates working together to lessen economic crime and its effects.

Thank you.