What we do
The SFO is a specialist prosecuting authority tackling the top level of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption.
We are part of the UK criminal justice system covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.
We take on a small number of large economic crime cases. In considering whether to take on an investigation, the Director of the SFO applies his Statement of Principle, which includes consideration of:
- whether the apparent criminality undermines UK PLC commercial or financial interests in general and in the City of London in particular,
- whether the actual or potential financial loss involved is high,
- whether actual or potential economic harm is significant,
- whether there is a significant public interest element, and
- whether there is new species of fraud
We also pursue criminals for the financial benefit they have made from their crimes, and assist overseas jurisdictions with their investigations into serious and complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases.
We are unusual in the UK in that we both investigate and prosecute our cases. We were set up this way because these kinds of cases are complicated and lawyers and investigators need to work together from the beginning.
The SFO was created and given its powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1987 and was established in 1988. Read more about our history and powers here.
The SFO is superintended by the Attorney General in accordance with a protocol which sets out the relationship between the Attorney and the Law Officers’ Departments.
The SFO Board is chaired by the Director and consists of the General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer and all three Non-Executive Directors (NEDs).
Our Director is David Green CB QC.
Our Non-Executive Directors are Simon Duckworth OBE DL, Tony Osbaldiston and Ruth Evans.
The senior management team and their responsibilities are shown in the organogram below.
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At the end of the financial year 2016-2017, we had a full time equivalent of around 400 permanent staff. When we take on very big cases we expand our capacity with temporary and fixed term staff.
Our staff includes investigators, lawyers, forensic accountants, analysts, digital forensics experts and a variety of other people in specialist and support roles.
Our funding and budget
The SFO has a core budget which is supplemented as necessary by additional funding agreed with the Treasury. This includes “blockbuster” funding, which enables us to take on very big cases where the annual expenditure is expected to exceed an agreed percentage of our core budget. The current “blockbuster” funding arrangement was agreed in October 2012.
Our total funding and spending for the current and recent years is shown in the table below.
Please note that “income” from 2014-15 onwards does not include receipts from the Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme (as per footnote 2, this goes to HM Treasury), or civil recoveries. These amounts are published in the Proceeds of Crime tables further down the page. “Income” also does not include disgorgement of profits or financial penalties in respect of Deferred Prosecution Agreements, which also go to HM Treasury. Largely as a result of DPAs, the SFO’s net contribution to the Treasury has been on the order of £461m over the 4 year period from April 2014 – March 2018.
Core funding (voted in Main Estimate)
¹An element of the additional funding has been provided as part of the Main Estimates since 2013-14, the total funding for the year is voted in the Supplementary Estimates.
²Up to 2013-14, the SFO received a proportion of the sums recovered from confiscation orders and civil recovery proceedings under the Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme (ARIS). However, because this income stream was extremely difficult to manage – consisting of infrequent and highly unpredictable sums – the SFO agreed with HM Treasury that from April 2014 all ARIS receipts on SFO cases would go to central funds, with a fixed sum added to the SFO’s core funding. This amount covers the approximate cost of running the Proceeds of Crime Division.
³Excludes Annually Managed Expenditure (certain spend on items which will be paid for in future financial years) and Capital Expenditure (for example, spending on IT software and equipment). For further information see our Annual Reports and Accounts.
The totals for 2016-17 are subject to audit.
The bigger picture
The SFO works with other law enforcement partners to tackle the challenges faced from serious and organised crime in line with the Government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy. In particular we work closely with:
- The National Crime Agency’s Economic Crime Command, International Corruption Unit and Bribery and Corruption Intelligence Unit
- The City of London Police, including its Economic Crime Directorate, Action Fraud, and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau
- UK police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units, Regional Asset Recovery Teams and Regional Fraud Teams
- HM Revenue & Customs
- The Financial Conduct Authority
The SFO also works collaboratively with UK Government departments, including our superintending department, the Attorney General’s Office, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, and with overseas partners, such as the US Department of Justice, on matters where there is a common interest.
The SFO is a partner in Project Bloom which is a multi-agency campaign to combat scams where people are encouraged to move or cash in their pension pots at great financial risk or loss.
More about our cases and how we work
The SFO has around 60 live criminal cases under investigation and before the courts at any given time. Not all will be in the public domain. They usually:
- Involve activity in many countries
- Involve alleged criminals who go to great lengths to hide their activity and the money they make from it
- Require analysis of very large quantities of information
- Take longer than normal criminal cases to investigate and prosecute
You can read about some of our cases here.
Stages of a case
Intelligence gathering or “pre-investigation” stage
The SFO receives information on possible criminal activity from a variety of sources, including whistleblowers, victims, other law enforcement agencies, the media, corporations themselves (“self reports”), and those in competition with them. This information is analysed and the potential for the alleged activity to become the subject of a criminal investigation is assessed by our Intelligence Unit, a team of intelligence operatives, lawyers, accredited financial intelligence officers, analysts and investigators.
The Intelligence Unit also undertakes its own research and proactively develops information. The unit has unique pre-investigation powers available under Section 2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 that are used to help determine whether to commence an investigation where it appears bribery and corruption may have taken place.
The Director can accept a case for criminal investigation if, in his judgment, it meets his Statement of Principle and if he considers there are reasonable grounds to suspect serious or complex fraud. This formal acceptance of a fraud matter for criminal investigation enables the SFO to use its investigatory powers (referred to as “Section 2 powers” as they are set out at Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987) to pursue it. These powers cannot otherwise be used in respect of fraud, although they can be used a pre-investigation stage in bribery and corruption cases.
Investigation and prosecution
Once a case is accepted by the Director, investigators and lawyers work together from the start. This way of working is known in the UK as the Roskill model and is an exception to the normal practice in this country, in which crime is generally investigated by a police force and the evidence passed to the CPS to decide whether to prosecute. The SFO was set up differently because our cases need strong cooperation and management from both lawyers and investigators all the way through, to make sure that the lines of investigation are the best ones to uncover criminal activity, and eventually prove it in court.
Deferred Prosecution Agreements
If the investigation results in enough evidence to a support a realistic prospect of conviction, and if a prosecution is considered to be in the public interest, charges will be normally be brought. Alternatively the Director of the SFO may consider inviting a company to enter negotiations for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. The SFO’s first DPA was with Standard Bank in 2015. Subsequently DPAs were agreed with XYZ (the company cannot be named until related criminal proceedings are concluded) in 2016 and with Rolls-Royce and Tesco in 2017.
Financial information on the SFO’s Deferred Prosecution Agreements
Financial penalties payable to Consolidated Fund*
2017 – 18
2016 – 17
2015 – 16
* This includes disgorgement of profits and fines.
**A rounded figure has been provided
*** These figures represent the value in GBP at the exchange rate current when the agreement, which was denominated in US dollars, was made.
^ includes interest.
If we decide to prosecute the alleged criminals, there will often be a court trial. Serious Fraud Office cases frequently take many weeks or months – longer than other criminal trials. This is because:
- the transactions involved are often complex and take place over a period of time and so generate vast amounts of documentation which needs to be considered by the court
- there is usually more than one defendant and therefore more than one defence advocate: each one has the right to test the evidence
- in most cases many witnesses are called (and frequently some have to travel from overseas to attend)
- the timetabling depends on the availability of a suitably qualified judge experienced in complex fraud or corruption trials
Proceeds of crime
In addition to investigating and prosecuting criminal cases, the SFO aims to recover the proceeds of crime so that fraudsters do not benefit from their offending and victims can be compensated wherever possible. Mainly using the powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, this often involves:
- Carrying out confiscation investigations and seeking confiscation orders against those convicted in our cases
- Obtaining compensation orders for the victims of fraud
- Enforcing the confiscation orders obtained
- Seeking civil recovery orders in the High Court in respect of property which represents the proceeds of criminal conduct, even if there is no criminal conviction
As of February 2016, enforcement proceedings were underway against about 40 individuals. This work is carried out by the SFO’s Proceeds of Crime Division, a team of specialist lawyers and financial investigators.
This division also investigates and prosecutes cases where money laundering has taken place and, where the Home Secretary has accepted a request from another state, obtains restraint orders and enforces confiscation orders over assets in the UK.
The tables below set out the value of Proceeds of Crime Orders obtained over the past five years as well as the payments made by defendants in respect of orders made against them. The amount of compensation imposed on a defendant is determined by the judge and varies from case to case, being dependent on the value of realisable assets and the amount of money obtained illegally from victims. Should a defendant not adhere to a compensation order, they can incur a default prison sentence.
|Proceeds of Crime Orders obtained by the SFO|
|Total of Confiscation Orders obtained||Compensation included as part of total confiscation||Stand-alone compensation||Civil recovery orders||Total*|
|2016 – 17||14,331,640.19||13,968,962.28||11,003,000||0||25,334,640.19|
|2015 – 16||3,387,650||120,678||–||–||3,387,650|
|2014 – 15||22,719,368||3,014,258||2,443,630||520,652||25,638,650|
|2013 – 14||2,868,954||2,868,954||–||7,461||2,876,415|
|2012 – 13||38,879,682||7,001,966||5,025,426||1,959,517||45,864,625|
|2011 – 12||1,896,213||231,539||150,000||16,224,053||18,270,266|
|2010 – 11||28,327,690||25,929,499||223,799||7,028,077||35,579,566|
* The total amount of orders obtained by the SFO constitutes the total confiscation orders made plus any additional compensation orders not included within the confiscation orders, plus any civil recovery orders imposed. For example, in 2010-11, the total amount of money due from orders obtained by the SFO comprised £28,327,690 + £223,799 + £7,028,077, totalling £35,579,566.
|Payments made in respect of SFO Orders|
|Confiscation payments received||Compensation included within confiscation payments||Stand-alone compensation||Civil recovery||Total*|
|2016 – 17||9,109,019||6,539,684||10,963,000||0||20,072,019|
|2015 – 16||19,612,132||7,519,179||0||0||19,612,132|
|2014 – 15||12,765,780||1,575,003||500,090||520,652||13,786,522|
|2013 – 14||1,577,973||1,221,884||0||7,461||1,585,434|
|2012 – 13||3,874,030||1,300,827||5,000,000||1,959,852||10,833,882|
|2011 – 12||3,328,273||1,560,183||0||16,224,053||19,552,326|
|2010 – 11||2,378,690||1,808,807||0||7,028,077||9,406,767|
* The total amount paid as a result of orders obtained by the SFO constitutes the total amount paid as a result of confiscation orders plus any additional compensation orders not included within the confiscation orders, plus any civil recovery orders imposed. For example, in 2012-13, the total amount of money recovered as a result of SFO action comprised £3,874,030 + £5,000,000 + £1,959,852 totalling £10,833,882.
Mutual Legal Assistance (‘MLA’) is the formal way in which countries request and provide help to each other, to obtain evidence located in one country for use in criminal investigations and prosecutions in another country. The SFO is a designated prosecuting authority in the United Kingdom for the purposes of MLA requests. Crime is increasingly global in nature and MLA is a vital tool for ensuring fair and effective criminal proceedings. The UK is committed to helping other countries combat international crime. By giving them the evidence to prosecute cases, we are deterring international criminals from:
- using the UK as a base for their activities
- seeking out UK victims
- damaging the UK’s reputation.
It also helps us enhance the cooperation the SFO receives from overseas partners. Most SFO cases have an international dimension and so we frequently make MLA requests ourselves. In order to avoid jeopardising our own investigations and prosecutions, and those of our international partners, we will generally not comment on whether or not we have made or received a request for MLA.
Where to send requests for evidence
The United Kingdom Central Authority (‘UKCA’) is part of the Home Office and deals with all MLA requests in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (except tax and fiscal customs matters). More details can be found on the UKCA website. If the matter is accepted by the UKCA and is one for the SFO, the UKCA will refer it to our International Assistance team for action.
Working for the SFO
Please see our careers page for information about working for us and about our use of self-employed external lawyers. You can keep informed of externally-advertised permanent vacancies at the SFO by registering with the civil service jobs site. As we recruit only through advertised competitions, we cannot consider CVs sent ‘on spec’.