At a conference last week, the joint head of fraud at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Hannah von Dadelszen, delivered a clear message to companies: "engage now or hide behind smoke and mirrors at your peril".

In particular, von Dadelszen set out more detail on how the SFO expects companies to behave, especially with a view to obtaining a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), including:

  • it is her view that it is becoming more difficult for companies to get away with wrongdoing;
  • corporates are increasingly expected to behave in a transparent manner;
  • the SFO places value on a voluntary self-disclosure when considering whether to offer a company a DPA; and
  • a company cannot seek to agree a DPA while also denying that there has been wrongdoing.

This follows a speech given last week by Lisa Osofsky that we also commented on, imploring companies to "tell us something we don't know" if they want to agree a DPA.

It appears that the SFO is making a concerted effort to get a message out to firms, encouraging them to have culture of transparency and co-operation with the regulator. Firms should be aware of this and be mindful of it when designing compliance policies or planning their response when they identify any wrongdoing in their business.

On another note, it is also interesting that von Dadelszen confirmed that the SFO would be willing to prosecute the new failure to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion offence contained in the Criminal Finance Act 2017 "if we have the right case" and that this would not need to be connected to a fraud or corruption issue.