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SFO Business Plan 2021/22

The Serious Fraud Office’s key operational remit is to investigate the most serious and complex fraud, bribery and corruption. In so doing, we uphold the rule of law, deliver justice, recover the proceeds of crime and encourage robust corporate governance. This is a vitally important service for the UK, its citizens and the economic security that makes the UK an attractive place in which to invest and do business. Effective, ambitious strategic goals and plans are essential to this effort. Our Business Plan details our ambition, the actions we will take and how we will measure our success in 2021/22. 

Director’s Foreword 

The overriding focus of this year’s Plan is to continue building on the substantial progress the SFO has made during the past 12 months in meeting the goals we set out last year. Highlights from our work against the 2020/21 Business Plan include the organisational redesign developed under the umbrella of our Culture Change Programme, the operational streamlining which has enabled us to respond to what has been a challenging year for law enforcement, the focus on enhancing our relationships with external stakeholders, and investment in the effective technology that is essential to our casework. We will continue to progress work and embed improvements in all of these areas. 

As this is the third and final year of our 2019-22 Strategic Plan, we have developed our Business Plan with an eye to our next multi-year Strategic Plan (to be published in 2022). In this context, and in the light of the significant change we have experienced over the past year, we have refreshed our organisational Mission and Strategic Objectives to state clearly what we aim to achieve as an organisation in meeting our statutory remit and delivering the best possible outcomes for the UK public. These are captured in this year’s plan and underpin the actions we will take, as well as our approach to monitoring and understanding the progress we make. 

I am deeply proud to lead the Serious Fraud Office in its critically important work. This has been a tough year for many of our staff and for the country as a whole. It is therefore especially important that our plans recognise the brilliant work of our teams and the results that this organisation has continued to deliver. The dedication, focus, flexibility, creativity and collaboration that my colleagues in the SFO have shown in the past year is remarkable. They provide a strong platform from which we will meet next year’s inevitable challenges and opportunities. It is my pleasure to present this Business Plan for 2021/22. 

Lisa Osofsky 

Director Serious Fraud Office 

Mission, Objectives and Values 

2021/22 is the third and final year of our 2019-22 strategic plan, a year in which there have been significant developments for the SFO and our operating context. We have adapted to COVID-19 and its impacts on both the UK and the world economy, as well as our ways of working and collaborating with our partners. This has brought challenges as well as opportunities. As we look to the year ahead, the SFO has focused on the future landscape and what this means for us as an organisation and our Mission. 

One of our key priorities will be developing and designing our new multi-year Strategic Plan. Our first step has been to review our purpose and to refresh our mission and strategic objectives. This refreshed mission and strategic objectives, underpinned by the SFO’s values, will shape our activity this year and drive our performance as we get ready to deliver our strategic vision in the years ahead.

Our Mission 

The Serious Fraud Office fights complex financial crime, delivers justice for victims and protects the UK’s reputation as a safe place to do business. 

Our Objectives 

  • To investigate and prosecute the most serious or complex cases of fraud, bribery and corruption.
  • To uphold the rule of law, deliver justice for victims and recover the proceeds of financial crime.
  • To deter criminals and require offending companies to reform in order to protect the UK’s economy and global reputation as a safe place to invest and do business.
  • To collaborate with partners in the UK and overseas to ensure there is no safe haven for those who commit serious financial crime.

We live by a set of shared values that we expect from each other and that anyone we engage with can expect from us.

Our Values 

Integrity and professionalism: We act fairly, honestly and responsibly in our work, making objective decisions driven by ethical principles and having the interest of the public at the heart of what we do.

Respect: We show respect to one another, our external colleagues and the wider public, treating all equally regardless of their background.

Openness and transparency: We work constructively in collaboration with others, including our domestic and global partners, and always explain our decisions openly and honestly.

Excellence: We strive for excellence in all that we do whilst seeking better ways to always deliver the best possible service to the public. 

The SFO is committed to playing its part in contributing to the Government’s strategic priorities for civil service reform. Our ambitions this year have been developed to align with the ambitions for a modern civil service. These strategic priorities are Developing Great People, Embracing New Ideas, Delivering Better Outcomes and doing so in a Sustainable way. 

Our Successes in 2020/21

The SFO has responded exceptionally well to the changes we have seen over the past year, continuing to deliver our core purpose to fight complex financial crime, deliver justice for victims and protect the UK’s reputation as a safe place to do business. This has involved a fundamental shift in how we work, from office-based and face-to-face interactions with colleagues, stakeholders and those under investigation, to a virtual system of remote engagement. The flexibility of our staff, and the investment we have made in quickly facilitating new ways of working, have enabled the SFO to maintain it functions and operations throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Our successes include:

Operations

We continued to deliver justice in relation to former Unaoil executives’ corrupt payments for oil contracts in post-occupation Iraq. Working collaboratively with our international partners, SFO investigations: 

  • uncovered over $17 million worth of bribes to secure contracts worth $1.7 billion;
  • secured convictions of four individuals for their part in these crimes: in July 2020 Stephen Whiteley and Ziad Akle were sentenced to 3 years’ and 5 years’ imprisonment respectively; in October 2020 Basil Al Jarah was sentenced to three years and four months’ imprisonment; and in March 2021, Paul Bond was sentenced to three and half years’ imprisonment

We saw no let-up in our ability to bring charges against suspected criminals, including: 

  • in July 2020, bringing charges against GPT Special Project Management Ltd and three individuals in connection with the conduct of GPT’s business in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.in August 2020, charging three men with multiple offences connected to the SFO’s investigation into the collapse of the Axiom Legal Financing Fund;
  • in September 2020, charging five individuals with fraud at Balli Group and Balli Steel; and,
  • in February 2021, charging biodiesel trader Gianni Rivera with fraud and money laundering related to the sustainable fuel sector;

The SFO continued to make progress in recovering the proceeds of crime, including by securing:

confiscation orders totalling £5,450,000 against the former Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Afren in July 2020; and,

£1.2 million in November 2020 from Julio Faerman, owner of a £4.25 million luxury apartment in West London which the SFO suspected to have been partly purchased with the corrupt funds of its owner’s criminal conduct. 

And we secured over £45 million in fines and penalties through Deferred Prosecution Agreements with G4S Care & Justice Services Limited and Airline Services Limited.

The SFO is the only UK prosecution agency to date to have used Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPA) as a prosecutorial tool. 

The care and support that we provide to victims and witnesses has also continued, including work to ensure witnesses understand the progress on our cases and that those who are called to give evidence can do so safely and in accordance with the changing Covid-19 restrictions. 

Stakeholders

We have continued to work collaboratively with our Government partners, including through the National Crime Agency’s National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) and the Economic Crime Strategic Board, chaired jointly by the Home Secretary and the Chancellor.

We have contributed to a range of legislative and policy initiatives, such as reviews of the legislative frameworks governing the investigative and prosecutorial powers we use such as pre-charge bail; disclosure in criminal cases; and covert human intelligence sources. This cross-Whitehall collaboration is supporting the SFO to secure and influence tools and powers that are commensurate to the complexity of our casework. 

In February 2021, the SFO initiated work through the NECC Management Board to review the system that encourages and protects assisting offenders in financial crime cases, and we are working closely with the law enforcement community through the NECC to develop this thinking. 

The SFO has also been active in working with the international economic crime law enforcement community, demonstrating our expertise and establishing the SFO and the UK as leaders in our field. For example, a senior SFO lawyer was a key member of the independent team that assessed the US for their phase 4 OECD Working Group for Bribery evaluation, published in December 2020, whilst we have worked with a number of jurisdictions to share our experience of successfully implementing the DPA regime. 

Our operational successes have also frequently relied on our ability to work across jurisdictions with new partners and old friends alike, including from the European Union and across the globe. For example, our Unaoil convictions were supported by joint work with the Australian Federal Police, the French Parquet National Financier, the Police Judiciaires of the Principality of Monaco, the Fiscal Information and Investigation Service of the Netherlands and the US Department of Justice. We are grateful for their assistance. 

The SFO’s loans and secondments programme is one of our most valuable mechanisms for sharing resources and expertise with our partners. In 2020/21 17 SFO staff were loaned or seconded to other Government Departments and Agencies, such as the NECC, the Crown Prosecution Service, Government Legal Department, Public Health England; and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We welcomed 5 staff from other departments and agencies to work with us in the SFO, including Cabinet Office, Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the NCA. In addition, we have seconded out 2 staff over the year to the Bank of England and Ernst and Young respectively, with 7 colleagues being seconded to us from organisations like private law firms, chartered accountants, the Bank of England and the US Department of Justice. 

Technology 

This year we have focused on addressing the challenges created by the pandemic for our technology platforms, whilst investing in our future capabilities. The SFO transitioned from a position where almost all staff worked on-site in a single location to over 90% of our workforce working remotely. Despite this huge change in how we work, our technology has continued to serve us effectively, enabling SFO staff to work remotely and to continue to collaborate with partners and to progress our operations. 

We have introduced solutions to enable face-to-face interviews, using virtual platforms. This has enabled our investigations to progress without compromising the safety of our staff, the public or others with whom we work. 

Despite the restrictions on office attendance, our Digital Forensics, Materials Management and E-Discovery teams have continued to provide a vital flow of evidence to case teams. 

We have started to migrate data from older cases onto our current review platform, enabling more case teams to benefit from the advanced analytical capabilities the platform provides.

People

In addition to our activity to support our people with the technology for remote working, recruitment and collaboration, the SFO has made significant progress in relation to its Culture Change Programme. This has included:

  • launching a Senior Civil Servant Charter to set the right tone from the top and demonstrate how we should live our values; promoting staff initiatives to give colleagues a voice and enable concerns to be raised; and
  • introducing a Continuous Professional Development regime for Investigators.

We have continued to build our senior leadership team, with Michelle Crotty taking up the new Chief Capability Officer post in August 2020, and John Carroll becoming the permanent Chief Operating Officer. By March 2021 all SCS posts in the SFO had been filled.

And we have seen our training programme continuing to attract new talent, with 21 trainee investigators graduating in 2020/21.

This year has seen the SFO maintain the engagement and staff wellbeing reported through the People Survey 2020. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have seen an uplift in important areas. This includes:

  • an increase of 16 percentage points on the visibility of senior leaders compared to 2019;
  • an extra 12 percentage points on the consistency of senior leaders’ behaviour with the SFO’s values;
  • we are up 6 percentage points in relation to staff choice in how they do their work; and,
  • a rise of 4 percentage points on staff feeling valued for their work.

There is much still to do, but these results speak to the impact of SFO-wide action on our culture, as well as to the dedication of staff and managers alike.

In July 2020, HMCPSI published its report into the SFO’s immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In that report, HMCPSI noted that it was clear that the SFO had been committed to the health and well-being of its staff during this difficult period with a strong focus on staff well-being, both physical and mental, during lockdown.

Finally, we have seen SFO colleagues and teams recognised publicly for their work, including: 

  • The UK’s Anti-Bribery Champion, John Penrose MP, paid tribute to an SFO Senior Lawyer for their crucial contribution to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention report on the US enforcement of its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
  • Case controller Laura Haywood won the 2020 British Legal Award in the “Rising Star – In House” category for her excellent work on the Airbus case.
  • The SFO Airbus case team won Legal Team of the Year at the Employed Bar Awards.
  • Two of our long-serving investigators were nominated by their colleagues for the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2020 Tackling Economic Crime Awards; and,
  • Two of our analytical team were ‘Highly Commended’ by the Cabinet Office’s Professional Heads of Intelligence Assessment (PHIA) body in the 2020 Analytical Award Ceremony for their successful contribution to progressing the national public private economic crime agenda.

Our Key Priorities for 2021/22 

Operations 

Our priority for this year focuses on protecting society through the independent investigation and prosecution of top tier crimes involving serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption, including by: 

  • Delivering a new case progression project that will mitigate and reduce the blockers to high-quality case progression at pace, not only for the year ahead but also laying the foundation for improvements in future years; 
  • Continuing to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute the perpetrators of top-tier economic crime using all the tools and powers available to us to secure the best possible outcome for the UK public in every case;
  • Putting victims and the public interest at the heart of our planning for and delivery of casework, including through first-class support to witnesses.
  • Every SFO case will have a Victim and Witness Strategy to ensure we are planning for victim and witness care and satisfaction throughout the life of a case;
  • Enhancing the recovery of the proceeds of crime and securing compensation for victims. This will include investigating opportunities following SFO confiscation orders to recover further assets to improve levels of recovery, deter criminals and enable compensation to be paid to victims, no matter how much time has passed since a conviction;
  • Identifying opportunities for asset forfeiture on SFO investigations and prosecutions under the Criminal Finances Act 2017 to ensure proceeds of crime are restrained and ultimately recovered;
  • Identifying further opportunities for civil recovery, including through engagement with international partners; and,
  • Encouraging good corporate compliance, and continuing to deploy Deferred Prosecution Agreements where these can help to deliver justice for victims quickly and effectively, whilst mandating improvements to avoid future fraud, bribery or corruption. 

This year we will continue to focus on our intelligence capability, including by embedding an intelligence culture at the SFO and motivating our organisation to identify and generate the right intelligence. To deliver against this ambition, we will focus on four priority themes: international bribery and corruption in a changing world; the 2021 threat landscape; getting ahead of investment fraud; and the growth of Cryptocurrency. By focusing on these areas and being specific about the information we want to collect we will develop our intelligence gathering capabilities to best effect – bringing forward the next generation of cases at the SFO.

People

Our people are key to delivering the SFO’s objectives and our ambition is for our culture, workforce planning, people strategies, and investment in our current and future talent to enable all our staff to contribute, to develop and to thrive. 

This includes delivering stage 2 of the Culture Change Programme, for example by:

  • Introducing an Action Learning Set (ALS) programme for all of our Band A (Grade 6) managers;
  • Delivering a reverse mentoring programme launched in 2020/21 for senior managers, including our Director, to be mentored by colleagues from diverse backgrounds (at a more junior grade) with a view to enabling a better understanding of diversity and inclusion issues;
  • Providing staff with health and wellbeing support throughout lockdown periods and as restrictions start to ease and we move into a new operating context;
  • Piloting a new approach to performance management focused on quality conversations and continuous improvement. The pilot is to be launched in April 2021 and involve 20% of SFO staff;
  • Providing a new Learning and Development portal to improve access to opportunities, along with advice on career paths and a Leadership and Management Development Portfolio for staff below SCS; and,
  • Increasing the number of staff representatives in the Culture Change Programme so everyone can have a meaningful voice in shaping our future.

We are also planning for an accommodation move from our current premises in Cockspur Street in 2022/23.

This will include assessing organisation and staff needs and exploring options for premises so that when we move to our new accommodation, we provide an environment that supports smarter working and meets our future operational, business support and technological needs.

Stakeholders

We have a broad range of stakeholders who are crucial to our success. We work with colleagues across Government to combat economic crime. This includes collaborating and sharing information and intelligence with UK and international partners.

Our ambitions are to ensure that the SFO’s engagement enhances our impact, strengthens our reputation and actively supports the delivery of our strategic objectives. To do this, we will:

  • Deliver a new, strategic engagement strategy that promotes the SFO’s work and enhances our impact with UK and global stakeholders;
  • Build the SFO brand and image by confidently communicating what the SFO is and does, our mission and objectives and the impact of our work; 
  • Ensure that our work with domestic and international law enforcement partners continues to support strong operational outcomes and UK influence, including by re-establishing face to face contacts and collaboration when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted as appropriate; 
  • Increase engagement and SFO visibility with cross-Whitehall partners, including the NECC Strategic and Management Boards;
  • Support an increase in staff engagement by creating strong links between our internal engagement and the SFO’s refreshed mission and objectives; and,
  • Continue generating value from our loans and secondments programme by matching opportunities to the organisation’s needs and staff development goals; as well as reinvigorating loans and secondments to and from international partners post-Covid.

Technology 

Technology and data are increasingly central to SFO’s mission. Technology is a vital tool for managing and making sense of the increasing volume and complexity of data generated during investigations, as well as the effective operation of SFO and its enabling functions. 

New technologies are also being exploited by criminals, able to rapidly experiment and deploy them in an agile way. This creates challenges and opportunities for the SFO. 

Our technology priorities for the year include enhancing our core IT platform, growing our capability to manage and exploit data, using technology to support case progression and building the skills we need for the future.

To deliver our priorities this year we will: 

  • Enhance the collaboration capabilities of our existing IT platform, including delivering external video-conferencing tools;
  • Undertake discovery and proof-ofconcept work into delivery of a new (or significantly enhanced) IT platform, with mobility, analysis and collaboration;
  • Improve the capabilities, timeliness and responsiveness of our Digital forensics and e-discovery services;
  • Continue the migration of cases onto our current review platform, enabling more case teams to benefit from the advanced data analysis capabilities the platform provides; and, 
  • Build our skills in priority areas including cyber security, data, cloud technologies and digital forensics. 

How we will monitor progress

In line with the Government’s approach to implementation, this year the SFO will develop specific outcome delivery measures against which to report our progress. These are: 

  1. The percentage of cases that successfully progress past the ‘no case to answer’ stage in criminal trials. 
  2. The average and median length in days of the investigation phase for active cases. 
  3. The total value of financial contributions to the government through the continued use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements. 
  4. The percentage of victims and witnesses who are called to give evidence that are satisfied with the experience provided by the SFO. 
  5. Total value of financial orders secured on realisable assets and the percentage recovered against order amounts.

We will also use the range of performance management tools available to us, as well as other mechanisms to gather feedback from stakeholders and staff on the progress we are making against our operational, people, stakeholder and technology priorities.

Governance and Accountability 

We have an ambitious agenda this year and a key part of making sure we deliver against this is our governance and accountability framework. We have spent 2020/21 developing a governance framework of boards and committees who will hold the responsibility of overseeing, challenging and managing the risks to the delivery of our business plan. 

The SFO Board is the SFO’s principal forum that sets the strategic direction and provides the senior leadership for both the enabling and operational functions of the SFO. Through membership of its Non-Executive Directors it seeks to provide independent scrutiny and challenge to the delivery of SFO business. 

The Executive Committee (ExCo) is responsible for organisational strategy and thereby the associated decision-making, oversight and accountability for delivery of objectives.

The ExCo holds responsibility for overall delivery of the annual Business Plan. ExCo receives assurance from and provides challenge to the four supporting committees on the delivery across the four key priority areas. 

The Audit & Risk Committee is a peer committee to the ExCo. The Audit & Risk Committee (ARC) supports and advises the Accounting Officer (the Director of the SFO) and ExCo in their responsibilities for issues of risk, control, governance and the associated assurances in relation to these. 

The four committees are responsible for the day to day oversight and delivery of the activities under each of the four priority areas including the associated success measures. 

The SFO forms one of the Law Officers’ Departments and is sponsored by the Attorney General as a public Arm’s Length Body. The relationship between the SFO and the Attorney General is set out in a Framework Agreement. 

The Ministerial Strategic Board is the forum chaired by the Law Officers that oversees the SFO’s strategic direction and holds the SFO to account for delivery of its strategic objectives. 

Our accountability to Parliament is discharged through our annual report of activity and audited accounts at the end of each financial year. The annual report and accounts complies SFO with relevant legal obligations, including any directions from the Law Officers and outlines our main activities and performance. 

Looking Ahead

Our strategic plan from 2022/23 will set the framework for the next 3 years of the SFO’s annual business and delivery plans. This new Strategic Plan will set the direction for the SFO and our priorities, supporting our ongoing work and collaboration to deliver the SFO’s mission and objectives. 

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