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SFO Director Lisa Osofsky gives keynote speech at Cambridge Symposium

5 September, 2022 | Speeches

Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, was invited to deliver a keynote speech on the opening morning of the 39th Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime.

Her full speech, delivered at Jesus College, Cambridge, on the morning of 5 September 2022, can be found below.



It is great to be here at the start of this year’s Symposium. 

Since I first addressed this forum in 2018 an awful lot has happened. From living through and adapting to Covid, to significant political moments – which of course continue this week.

I’m here though today to talk about the Serious Fraud Office.

I’d like to reflect on what I said back in 2018 and the priorities I set for the SFO then.  I will talk to you about what we have done since, as well as what I want to focus on in the year ahead.

To take you back in time, when I came to speak to you in 2018 I was at the very start of my tenure as Director, indeed my first day on the job.  I had a clear vision for what I wanted to achieve. 

I spoke to the Symposium about four key priorities I had for my organisation:

–        Being proactive and confident – especially in terms of case progression

–        Better use of technology in our cases

–        Investing in relationships and international collaboration, and

–        Building our intelligence capability


Where we are today

We have made great progress since 2018.

We have become a more decisive organisation. That includes being ready to close cases if that is the right decision, and having the tools and leadership necessary to move cases forward at pace.  Of course our cases are complex and big – they take time – but timely justice to victims and for our society is important, so we will continue to push. 

We have invested in some of the technology needed to do our complex work in the digital age, as well as responding to the needs of remote working during the pandemic. More investment is needed. Our cases often involve millions of documents and technology can help us to manage that data, so our staff can focus on analysis and decision-making. I secured over £4 million in extra funding in the 2021 Spending Round to continue this vitally important journey.

We have also intensified and broadened the SFO’s international collaboration and reach. You’ll struggle to find any major corruption or fraud case that doesn’t cross international borders. So stepping up our work with partners has been a cornerstone of many of our successes in my time as Director – from landing the biggest ever global settlement of its kind with France and the US through the 2020 Airbus DPA to his year’s Glencore conviction following close work with the US and others.

Finally, Intel – when I started at SFO I wanted to improve the flow and assessment of information into our organisation. We have developed a bespoke team of intelligence officers, who are equipped to identify and develop new cases as well as support ongoing investigations with quality intelligence. 


The results

Our mission is clear – to fight financial crime, deliver justice to victims and protect the UK’s global reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.

We’ve had many notable successes. Since I started in 2018, we have convicted 21 individuals and numerous companies, including David Ames, the man behind a £226 million fraud involving celebrity-endorsed luxury resorts in the Caribbean. He defrauded over 8,000 investors and was convicted last month.

Again, just last month Timothy Schools, the investment manager who used millions of pounds of investors’ money to fund his luxury lifestyle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Two individuals, who defrauded 2,000 savers and pensioners out of their savings under the falsehood of supporting the Amazon rainforest were convicted in June for 11 years each.

Petrofac Limited, which we convicted in 2021 for seven counts of failure to prevent the systematic bribery of officials to win oil contracts in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the UAE between 2011 and 2017. The Court ordered the company to pay over £77 million.

In April 2021 we convicted GPT of corruption regarding telecommunications contracts between December 2008 and July 2010, following which the judge ordered the company to pay over £30 million in confiscation, fine and costs reflecting the gravity of GPT’s crime.

And there are many more examples I could mention…

We have recovered over £59.5 million in proceeds of crime since 2018 and we have agreed 8 DPAs bringing back over £1 billion to the UK taxpayer, including Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Limited, which last year saw the company pay £103 million for its corrupt actions and compelled it to make significant internal changes to guard against further corruption in the future. This was part of global resolution with US and Brazilian authorities, relating to the use of corrupt agents in the oil and gas sector and resulted in compensation to Nigeria that will fund infrastructure projects in the country. 

Under the 2020 Airbus DPA, Airbus agreed to pay a fine and costs amounting to €991 million here in the UK, and in total, €3.6 billion.


Using all our powers

This record also shows that the SFO is relentless in using all the powers available to it to deliver justice, including pursuing individual convictions, corporate convictions, DPAs and civil recovery – despite what you might hear from some of our more vocal and ill-informed detractors!

This financial year alone, we have eight trial cases involving more than 20 individuals and criminality worth over £550m.


Priorities now and for the future

I am proud of what we have achieved since 2018. But we are not content to sit back and leave it there – I am still ambitious for the SFO’s future and the work we will do over the coming year. Like all organisations – and particularly one dealing with the most complex, serious and high risk cases in our field – we have also made some mistakes, and we are on a continuous journey of learning.

We still have plenty to do.

I will continue to push all of the priorities I have mentioned: confident case progression; smart use of tech; international cooperation; and an intelligence, evidence-led approach to all of our work at the SFO.

I am keen to see changes in our operating environment that will support my staff in their work. 

One of the biggest challenges right now is disclosure. There is a lot of work happening within the SFO to support our disclosure officers and to make our processes, policies and procedures better.

However, the current disclosure framework was designed before the advent of mass digital data. When there was far less material for investigators and prosecutors to deal with. Now a standard SFO case’s material, if printed, could fill up 22 London buses.  The documents run into many millions, with complex digital data across many different devices.

Yet the regime still demands manual review and description of documents. This can take years, with victims waiting for a resolution, waiting for their day in court.

The system also runs a deep risk of human error. Despite requiring the manual review of each document the defence can use a mistake, which is capable of correction, to mount tactical challenges to our cases. And as we saw in Serco, it can mean that a case we’ve worked on for years collapses. To say this is disappointing would be an understatement.

So one of my big priorities for the year ahead is that we recognise the significant challenges of disclosure for law enforcement in data-rich, document-heavy cases and rebalance the system for victims and justice. 


2022-5 Strategy

This theme of influence – including in relation to improving our powers and legislative framework – is a key part of the Strategy I published in April.  That strategy also recognises that our context has changed – and is changing all the time.  We need to be able to change with it to keep fit now and for the future.

Like so many other organisations right now I manage our operational delivery and aspirations against the realities of a limited budget. Our work is complex. It takes time. It involves many complex processes. And it requires brilliant people with expertise and passion for the work. All of this means we need strong funding to get us where we need to be. This is an ongoing challenge. 

These realities though should not limit our aspirations and I remain the same ambitious person I was in 2018. Our current strategy reflects this.

This starts with having the right tools. Over the next three years, we will go further to build our capabilities and use of technology. I will broaden the use of tech across our work to enable our staff to deliver their specialist roles with better tools and greater support.

We will also continue to build and strengthen our relationships with partners. This is essential and we have come a long way – just this year, I hosted a delegation of over 40 colleagues from the US Department of Justice and other agencies here in London at which the partnership aspirations were crystal clear. I will continue to develop this outward-facing, team working culture to developing and sustaining our relationships with partner agencies across the globe.

Being here today is part of this, working closely within our global community. I trust you will support me in this mission and continue to champion the important work of the SFO.

Thank you.