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Cambridge Symposium 2012

3 September, 2012 | Speeches

David Green CB QC, Director, at the Cambridge International Symposium, Jesus College, Cambridge.

Ladies and Gentlemen

This is my first Cambridge Symposium. I took up my post as Director of the Serious Fraud Office some 4 months ago on 21 April 2012.

What is the point of the SFO? The answer to that question needs restating.  The SFO is here to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute, top drawer fraud, bribery and corruption, where its unique set up is best and most effectively deployed.

By “set up”, I mean the model in which we have all the tools necessary for that task assembled under one roof:   legal, prosecutorial, forensic accountancy and computer expertise working together in a single specialist organisation.

By “top drawer fraud”, I mean cases which undermine UK plc in general and the City of London in particular.

Examples of that are seen in some of the investigations that have been commenced during the past four months:

  • Weavering Capital (an investigation into an alleged £300m hedge fund fraud re-opened following a civil judgment in the High Court);
  • Commercial transactions between Barclays and Qatar Holdings in 2008;
  • The LIBOR investigation;
  • The recently concluded case of Asil Nadir (a case that had remained on SFO’s books since Mr Nadir fled the jurisdiction in 1993, and returned in 2010).

In other words, the SFO is here to use its unique model to do the most difficult cases.  Such cases are, in their nature, high profile and high risk and not every investigation will necessarily result in a prosecution, for obvious reasons.

The recent judgment of the Divisional Court in the Tchenguiz case highlighted a serious problem around quality in the SFO’s work.  As the SFO conceded in that case, information provided to the court in support of applications for search warrants in 2011 contained serious inaccuracies.  In response to that, I have re-organised the SFO that I inherited, building in layers of quality assurance in casework Divisions, appointing a General Counsel, a Chief Investigator and a distinguished retired judge as a special adviser.

These appointments will be underpinned by recruitment drives aimed at the private Bar and Solicitors to bring in new blood to the SFO.

The aim is to maximise the quality of the SFO’s legal decision making and output and to provide tightly focussed investigations and prosecutions concentrating on the kernel of fraud – the key misconduct – in any case, resisting the temptation to paint an all-encompassing canvas for the jury.

Like all government departments outside health and education, the SFO has had to reduce its budget to contribute to deficit reduction.

The current model is essentially that of a lean machine.  After all, we cannot keep expensive banking or financial expertise on the payroll unless it is needed.  Equally, it would be unthinkable for the SFO to decline to investigate something simply on the grounds of cost.  And we are up against those with access to the very best professional advice and representation.  In that context, we cannot be outgunned.

So.  When a big case – like Libor say – comes along, the SFO must have a “surge” capacity to meet it.  Hence, I welcome the additional support pledged by the Treasury to our spending in that case.  Enquiries such as Libor cannot be funded by loose change from down the back of the sofa.

It may be that we should look to an updated version of what used to be called “blockbuster” funding to meet the challenge posed by one or more exceptional cases being adopted for investigation at the same time.

Although I am aware of the risks in this area, I always baulk at the suggestion that big corporates or wealthy individuals might “outgun” the SFO.  It tends to ignore the fact that, at trial, we are prosecutors putting evidence of criminality before a court.

As to the SFO’s approach.  Generally, if we have sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute, we will do so.  At the same time, I am very much in favour of maximising the tools available to us as investigators and prosecutors.

Most topical among those tools are Deferred Prosecution Agreements.  These would provide, in the right circumstances and under judicial supervision, a way of addressing usually historic and self-reported corporate misconduct justly without the collateral damage of a criminal conviction.

Of course, we need to articulate why companies should self report (what is in it for them) and they need to be encouraged to do so.  An improved SFO intelligence capability is intrinsic to that equation, and that, too, is a project I am addressing.

Civil settlements will continue to be offered and reached in appropriate cases.  An example would be our recent settlement with Oxford Publishing regarding its dealings in East Africa.  (I feel somehow safe in mentioning OUP here).  Responding to recent OECD recommendations, we were careful to explain publicly why such a settlement was the appropriate course in the particular circumstances of that case, namely the impossibility of obtaining evidence.

The SFO is the lead agency on the Bribery Act.  We are concentrating on serious international bribery and corruption.  We have several projects underway.  The right cases will be brought forward (for investigation, and where appropriate, prosecution) at the right time.

The SFO is moving to new premises off  Trafalgar Square in November.  So we will no longer be the “nightmare on Elm Street”.

That is a whistlestop tour of where we are with the SFO. Thank you for your patience and attention.

My aim is to bring the SFO to the top of its game as an investigator and prosecutor of top tier, complex fraud and corruption.