Winding up SFO would be a green light to fraudsters
No other agency has the experience and capability to take on such complex cases, Rosalind Wright writes
If fraudsters, international swindlers, cheats and money launderers were looking for a signal that the UK, and London in particular, is a safe place for them to operate without fear of being stopped, nothing could be clearer or more encouraging than the Conservative manifesto pledge to wind up the Serious Fraud Office.
No other body has the sole mission and objective of tackling serious and complex fraud and corruption; no other body has the expertise, built up over many years, to investigate and prosecute huge, international and challenging cases that other law enforcement agencies are not equipped to deal with and relegate to the “too difficult” box.
If Theresa May, who has had her eye on the SFO as a candidate for a Home Office takeover for many years, wants to boost the volume of financial crime in England and Wales, to increase the numbers of victims of fraud who have to deal with the misery of seeing their life savings, in some cases, vanishing without hope of recovery and make England and Wales an international pariah in the counter-fraud community, abolishing the SFO is the ideal way forward.
Over its almost 30 years of operation, the SFO has tackled some of the most difficult and abstruse cases that no other body was able or willing to take on. Of course it has had its disappointments as well as its signal successes; that must be expected in a fair and just legal system where criminal charges of every kind and amount that are too serious to be dealt with by magistrates are tried before a jury.
The SFO has built an international reputation as an expert and effective specialist department. Its independence is underlined by its separation from the main departments of state: it is technically a non-ministerial government department, “superintended” by the attorney-general.
The office costs comparatively little to run compared with its efficiency in bringing financial criminals to book and ensuring that their assets are used, as far as possible, for the benefit of those they have defrauded.
David Green, QC, the organisation’s current director, was one of the most highly rated criminal silks at the Bar and is doing a first-class job at the SFO. He and the SFO must be allowed to continue to fulfil their unique statutory role, with the full support of whichever government is elected on June 8.
Rosalind Wright, QC, is a former director of the Serious Fraud Office