The UK is getting better at tackling foreign bribery, heightening calls to safeguard the Serious Fraud Office's future

Hayley Kirton
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The government is currently auditing the UK's approach to economic crime. (Source: Getty)

The UK has raised its game in tackling foreign bribery over the last five years, but the fraud squad's shaky future could undermine that progress, a report out today warns.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Working Group praised the country for coming on in leaps and bounds in the fight against bribery since it last reported in March 2012, particularly thanks to the "pragmatic and effective approach taken by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)".

The OECD urged the government to protect the future of the SFO and make sure it has access to the resources it needs.

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The SFO, which has been headed up by David Green as director since April 2012, has scored a number of successes recently in the field of foreign bribery and corruption.

Back in January, the agency obtained a deferred prosecution agreement for £497m from engineering firm Rolls-Royce off the back of claims of possible bribery and corruption in the company's overseas markets, particularly China and Indonesia.

However, the OECD has plenty of reason to be concerned about the fraud squad's future. The government is currently auditing the UK's approach to economic crime.

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When questioned about the fate of the SFO by MPs last week, solicitor general Robert Buckland came out in favour of the Roskill model used by the fraud squad, whereby investigators and prosecutors work under the same roof. However, he did not go as far as guarantee it would not be rolled into another of the UK's crime agencies in the future.

Meanwhile, back when she was home secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May argued the fraud squad should be folded into the National Crime Agency (NCA).

And, while the SFO may well be on the road to recovery, its past has been tarnished by some high-profile flops, including a botched probe into property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz.

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A cabinet office spokesperson said: "We will consider the recommendations made by the OECD as we continue to make the UK a more hostile environment for all forms of economic crime, including bribery, money laundering and fraud."

The SFO declined to comment.

The OECD also encouraged the government to work on its anti-money laundering framework to better spot foreign bribery. The report also warned Brexit could knock the UK's battle against bribery, as it could put a strain on the amount of time the government and parliament have to devote to the issue.

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Earlier this month, the Treasury announced it would be setting up a new watchdog – the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision – specifically to oversee anti-money laundering activities.

Meanwhile, the country hosted an anti-corruption summit last May and the criminal finances bills is currently making its way through the House of Lords so could be passed into law in the near future.

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