The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has published its Annual Report and Accounts for 2020–2021 (the Report). The Report provides an overview of how the SFO has operated in a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and comments, among other things, on how this has impacted its strategic aims.
Of particular note, in this past year the SFO has:
Prosecutions and convictions
- secured four convictions of individuals, one by guilty plea, for corruption-related offences with a combined sentencing of 14 years and 10 months of imprisonment;
- charged 20 individuals and corporations, with trials due to take place in 2021-22 and 2022-23 (the charges against the two corporates were suspended following the conclusion of deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs));
- opened 60 new criminal cases, which represent 15% of the SFO’s active cases;
- closed 12 criminal investigations (of which nine had been open for over four years). 19 individuals and organisations await trial by the end of this year;
Deferred prosecution agreements
- secured two DPAs, one for penalties and costs of £44.4m and another for over £2m – netting a total of approximately £47.4m in fines and penalties, including costs, awarded to the SFO. These DPAs related to offences of fraud and corruption, including the failure to prevent bribery. It is significant that the SFO emphasises that the terms of one of the DPAs bind the company in question to “wide-ranging compliance obligations and improvements, including periodic review, assessment, and reporting of… internal controls, policies and procedures by a third-party reviewer” noting that “These compliance obligations are a critical component of the DPA, offering substantial oversight and assurance regarding the future corporate conduct of a major UK government supplier”;
Proceeds of crime
- obtained eight Financial Orders, with a total value of approximately £7.4m. Of these, the SFO secured two Confiscations Orders for approximately £5.4m; two Account Forfeiture Orders for approximately £450k; a Listed Asset Order for gold jewellery worth approximately £500k and an out-of-court settlement for approximately £1.2m; and
- of these recovered sums, £200k was paid to victims by way of compensation.
Following an internal threat assessment of the landscape of economic crime, the SFO identifies the following four themes that will be the focus of its strategy for the 2021–2022 period:
- international bribery and corruption in a changing world;
- the 2021 threat landscape;
- getting ahead of investment fraud; and
- the growth of cryptocurrency.
It remains to be seen how these identified areas will translate into different working practices or conduct.
In response to the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Report reveals that roughly 90% of the SFO’s staff worked from home throughout the past year. The SFO has introduced a new “Strategic Planning Covid Group” to plan for the longer term and the lasting impact of the pandemic, including how the SFO will operate in a hybrid-working environment in the future. Like many organisations, the SFO is having to adapt to a changed world, but there have been achievements over the past year for the SFO to celebrate, notwithstanding criticism levelled against it. As Lisa Osofsky, Director of the SFO, notes: