Serious Fraud Office in talks to increase annual budget

Serious Fraud Office in talks to increase annual budget

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is in talks to change the way it is funded.

The SFO has a basic annual budget of £31m to maintain its 500 staff.

It asks the Treasury for extra cash when it takes on “blockbuster” cases, like the Tesco fraud probe. Critics have said the agency needs a larger budget rather than having to rely on case-by-case funding.

David Green, the SFO’s director-general, told the BBC any final decision was in the Treasury’s hands.

Since the financial crisis, the SFO has received more than £100m in top-up funding to fund big cases, including the investigations into Rolls-Royce, Tesco and Barclays.

Mr Green defended the arrangement. “I have never not pursued a case that we thought worthy of investigation because of a lack of funding, and nor would I ever do that,” he told the BBC in an interview.

Mr Green said he had never had “the slightest difficulty” in securing funding to pursue a blockbuster case: “We are in discussion at the moment over whether the relationship between the basic and blockbuster funding is the right one, but that is a matter for the Treasury.”

‘Too big to jail’

Mr Green, who took charge at the SFO in 2012 after its embarrassing – and costly – failure to bring charges against the Tchenguiz brothers over the collapse of the Icelandic bank, Kaupthing, steps down in April.

He negotiated a settlement with the Tchenguizs, and went on to bring high-profile cases over the rigging of Libor and Euribor benchmark interest rates, as well as against Barclays, Tesco and Rolls-Royce.

The last resulted in a near £700m penalty payment under a “deferred prosecution” agreement – a legal arrangement where a company agrees to pay up in return for not receiving a criminal conviction that might put it out of business.

Some legal experts think such agreements amount to a concession that some companies are “too big to jail”.

Mr Green said they were a recognition that “people commit fraud, not companies, and you can’t jail a company”.

He said the deferred prosecution law here had drawn on the set-up in America, but with one crucial difference – each UK agreement has to be signed off by a judge: “That judicial oversight is the key,” he said.

Source: BBC News

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