UK Govt continues to review options for SFO’s future

Maria Nikolova

The UK government appears reluctant to provide a clear-cut statement about the future of the SFO, which has come under harsh criticism over the way it handled high-profile investigations, including those into Libor manipulation.

Nearly six months have passed since the Conservative Party’s Manifesto famously unveiled plans to fold the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) amid efforts to improve intelligence sharing and bolster the investigation of serious fraud, money laundering and financial crime. Ever since, however, the Conservatives have been obscure about the implementation of this pledge.

The latest comments in this respect leave plenty of room for speculation. On October 25, 2017, Baroness Stern, Parliamentary, House of Lords, asked whether Her Majesty’s Government have any plans to combine the Serious Fraud Office with any other law enforcement agencies. On November 7, 2017, Baroness Williams of Trafford from the Conservatives gave the following answer:

“The Government is committed to strengthening the UK’s response to bribery, corruption, money laundering, fraud and other forms of economic crime. The Government is continuing to review options to improve the effectiveness of the UK’s response to economic crime, and any measures resulting from this work will be announced in due course.”

Apparently, it is not certain that the plans to integrate the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency will result in anything particular, although the Government is still considering all options.

One of the major failures of the SFO is the collapse of the trial against ex-traders Stylianos Contogoulas and Ryan Michael Reich, accused of rigging the Libor rate. Stylianos Contogoulas and Ryan Michael Reich were acquitted by a jury at Southwark Crown Court in April this year following a retrial.

In June this year, the House of Lords heard the statement of Lord James of Blackheath who criticized the way UK regulators and authoritative bodies have handled LIBOR-related issues. Lord James noted the sequence of four LIBOR cases which have passed through the High Court in the last 18 months. There have been 15 prosecutions, five convictions, two cases where the juries have failed to agree and eight acquittals. As a result, he said, there are “so many confusions and unresolved issues from this process and our parallel LIBOR market in Europe, called Euribor, is complaining so much that it may seek to shut us out and take the entire market, to our significant financial detriment.”

Lord James also slammed the SFO over the “experts” it provided with regards to LIBOR-related trials. He noted that the expert witness provided by the SFO had broken down in the fourth trial, and had confessed that “he did not know the first thing about LIBOR, had never worked a day in the LIBOR market and had been given coaching by the SFO as to what to say to convince the jury”.

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