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About us

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. The Director may investigate any suspected offence which appears to her on reasonable grounds to involve serious or complex fraud, bribery or corruption.

In considering whether to authorise an investigation the Director will take into account the actual or intended harm that may be caused to:

  • the public, or
  • the reputation and integrity of the UK as an international financial centre, or
  • the economy and prosperity of the UK

and whether the complexity and nature of the suspected offence warrants the application of the SFO’s specialist skills, powers and capabilities to investigate and prosecute.

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. Since 30 September 2017 we have had the power to investigate and prosecute the new offence of corporate failure to prevent the facilitation of overseas tax evasion.

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.

Our people

The SFO Board is chaired by the Director and consists of the General Counsel, Chief Operating Officer and all Non-Executive Directors (NEDs).

Our Director is Lisa Osofsky.

Our Chief Operating Officer is John Carroll. The Chief Capability Officer is Michelle Crotty. The General Counsel is Sara Lawson QC. The Chief Financial Officer is Liz Corrin.

Our Non-Executive Directors are Sanjay Bhandari, Magnus Falk, Emir Feisal and Martin Spencer.

The senior management team and their responsibilities are shown in the biographies section.

At the end of the financial year 2018-2019, we had a full time equivalent of around 450 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 from the Treasury Reserve. Following extensive discussions with HM Treasury this reserve funding arrangement was amended from 2018-19 with a revised arrangement whereby reserve funding would only be available for the costs of any case once they exceed 5% of the vote funding for the year. From 2018-19 this means that reserve funding is only available for those cases where in year costs are above £2.5m. HMT also agreed as part of this revision to an uplift in the SFO’s vote funding for the last two years of the current Spending Review.

The previous arrangement covered the entire cost of a case where expenditure on that case was expected to exceed 5% of the SFO’s core budget, which was then lower. The changes are fiscally neutral but will enable the SFO to operate more efficiently. This additional financing will continue to be agreed with HM Treasury on a year by year basis.

The overall objective of the renegotiation was to ensure that the proportion of vote funding to reserve funding was rebalanced so that it was effectively support funding rather than a staple. The changes are fiscally neutral but will enable the SFO to operate more efficiently. More information about this arrangement is here.

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. The introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements has meant that the returns to HMT from the SFO have been significant, and considerably exceed funding. Since their introduction in 2014 payments by the SFO to the Consolidated Fund have exceeded £710m. The SFO’s net contribution to HM Treasury at December 2019 was £461m.

Year

Core funding (voted in Main Estimate)

£000

Additional funding¹

£000

Income²

£000

Gross budget³

£000

Gross spend³

£000

2019-20

52,460

900

2018-19

52,700

7,000

900

60,600

58,127

2017-18

35,700

22,900

990

59,590

56,582

2016-17

35,700

17,930

1,112

54,742

52,937

2015-16

33,800

28,000

900

62,600

61,181

2014-15

33,200

24,500

1,700

59,400

56,437

2013-14

29,600

24,000

400

54,000

52,141

2012-13

33,400

7,400

2,900

43,700

40,939

2011-12

33,900

(700)

7,000

40,100

38,538

2010-11

34,100

2,800

4,400

41,300

39,924

2009-10

35,100

6,000

3,300

44,600

42,963

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 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.

National Economic Crime Centre (NECC)

The NECC is the national authority for the UK’s operational response to economic crime, maximising the value of intelligence and tasking and coordinating to ensure the response achieves the greatest impact on the threat.

The SFO is a key member of the NECC, which is hosted by the NCA and staffed by partners from across the law enforcement community including the Financial Conduct Authority, HMRC, City of London Police and the private sector.

The agencies involved work together to develop a shared understanding of the threat, an agreed prioritisation mechanism and collective accountability for delivering an effective response, and ways of assessing the impact of our response.

Mermaid statue in Trafalgor square fountains

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 her judgment, it meets her Statement of Principle and if she 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. Subsequent DPAs were agreed with Sarclad Ltd in 2016 and with Rolls-Royce and Tesco in 2017. In 2019, DPAs were agreed with Serco Geografix Ltd  and Güralp Systems Ltd. In 2020, a DPAs were agreed with Airbus SE, G4S Care & Justice Services (UK) Ltd  and Airline Services Ltd.  In 2021, a DPA was agreed with Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Limited and with two companies for  Bribery Act offences (reporting restrictions apply under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 in respect of aspects of these proceedings. The full documentation will only be published when those restrictions have been lifted).

Financial information on the SFO’s Deferred Prosecution Agreements

 

Financial penalties payable to Consolidated Fund*

£000

Compensation

£000

Costs

£000

Total payable

£000

2020-2021 (As at 2 July 2021)

137,889**

The MoJ was paid compensation by G4S C&J as part of a £121.3m civil settlement in 2014, as referenced in para.6

Amec Foster Wheeler Limited paid £210,610 in compensation to the people of Nigeria.

9,300**

147,189**

2019-20

845,270**

The MOJ was paid compensation by Serco Geografix Ltd as part of a £70m civil settlement in 2013 as referenced in para.3

9,724**

854,994**

2018-19

2017 – 18

129,000**

129,000**

2016 – 17

503,806

12,961

516,767

2015 – 16

16,782***

4,692***^

330

21,804

* This includes fines and, where applicable disgorgement of profit.

**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.

Trial

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
  • Seeking account forfeiture orders in the Magistrates’ Court in respect of monies of funds held in bank and building society accounts that is recoverable property or is intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct.
  • Seeking to seize, detain and subsequently forfeit “listed assets”, where all or part of the asset is recoverable property or is intended by any person for use in unlawful conduct.

This work is carried out by the SFO’s Proceeds of Crime and International Assistance Division, a team of specialist lawyers and financial investigators.

Where the Home Secretary has accepted a request from another state, the team 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 four 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 defendant to defendant, being dependent on the value of realisable assets and the amount of money obtained illegally from victims. Should a defendant not adhere to a confiscation and / or compensation order, they can incur a default prison sentence.

The SFO, together with other agencies, has committed to the ‘Compensation Principles’. Those cases where monies are to be re-directed in this way are highlighted in the relevant case updates and include SFO v Saleh.

Proceeds of Crime Orders obtained by the SFO

 

Value of Confiscation Orders obtained*

Value of Compensation included as part of  Confiscation

Value of Stand-alone compensation

Value of Part 5 Orders

Total Value

2020 – 21

£5,629,497.06

 

 

£1,759,548.24

£7,389,045.30

2019 – 20

£13,476,458.25

£7,828,499.06

 

 

£13,476,458.25

2018 – 19

£4,095,093.21

£89,589.11

 

£6,022,626.72

£10,117,719.93

2017 – 18

£343,183.76

 

 

£20,000.00

£363,183.76

Breakdown of Part 5 Orders

 

Value of Civil Recovery orders

Value of Account Forfeiture Orders

Value of Cash Forfeiture Orders

Value of Listed Assets Forfeiture Orders

Total Value

2020 – 21

£1,198,424.78

  £52,960.46

 

£508,163.00

£1,759,548.24

2019 – 20

 

 

 

 

£0.00

2018 – 19

£4,400,000.00

£1,522,756.72

£99,870.00

 

£6,022,626.72

2017 – 18

 

 

£20,000.00

 

£20,000.00

 Payments made in respect of SFO Orders

 

Confiscation payments received

Compensation included within confiscation payments

Stand-alone compensation payments received

Part 5 Payments received

Total Value

2020 – 21

£5,696,626.93

£200,629.53

 

£1,251,385.24

£6,948,012.17

2019 – 20

£6,208,585.99

£472,746.54

 

£1,520,457.09

£7,729,043.08

2018 – 19

£3,982,784.16

£391,923.98

 

£4,499,870.00

£8,482,654.16

2017 – 18

£428,865.03

£10,940.90

 

£20,005.43

£448,870.46

 Part 5 Payments Received

 

Civil Recovery Orders

Account Forfeiture Orders

Cash Forfeiture Orders

Listed Asset Forfeiture Orders

Total Value

2020 – 21

£1,198,424.78

£52,960.46

 

 

£1,251,385.24

2019 – 20

 

 

 

 

£1,520,457.09

2018 – 19

£4,400,000.00

£1,520,457.09

£99,870.00

 

£4,499,870.00

2017 – 18

 

 

£20,005.43

 

£20,005.43

 

* Includes successful applications to increase original confiscation orders (s.22 POCA 2002)

Data on the value of orders obtained by the SFO can change due to successful variations.   

Data on the payments made against SFO orders has been extracted from central records held by the HM Courts and Tribunals Service. These records are subject to change as payment records are added or amended.

International Assistance

Mutual legal assistance is a form of cooperation between States for obtaining assistance in the investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and identifying and recovering the proceeds of crime. Requests for mutual legal assistance are usually made by judges and prosecutors in one jurisdiction and executed by executing authorities in the jurisdiction where the evidence is located. The SFO is an executing authority in matters of serious or complex fraud which includes bribery and corruption and we have a team dedicated to executing MLA requests from of overseas jurisdictions to assist them their investigations, prosecutions and asset recovery work and to contribute to the fight against international criminality.

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. The SFO cannot accept requests directly.

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’.