Serious Fraud Office doubles use of orders to freeze and seize assets

 
Jasper Jolly
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The Serious Fraud Office has moved its focus to larger frauds, Pinsent Masons said (Source: Getty)

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) froze assets suspected of being involved in fraud eight times in the last financial year, according to law firm Pinsent Masons.

“Restraint orders” allow the SFO to freeze and confiscate assets it believes to be associated with money laundering or other forms of fraudulent activity.

The use of the powers has doubled in the past year as the SFO tries to be more proactive in stopping criminals from liquidating assets, Pinsent Masons said.

The SFO has also increased its usage of funds obtained from criminals in compensating victims, the law firm said.

Read more: Fraud increased again this year as more crime takes place online

The SFO has faced pressure in recent years to increase its assertiveness, with Prime Minister Theresa May campaigning during June’s General Election on a platform to abolish the agency. However, those plans have since been dropped.

Reported fraud offences rose four per cent over the last year to 641,539, according to the Office for National Statistics. However, over the same period, fraud prosecutions fell 12 per cent.

The agency has increased its focus on larger cases recently, but that decision is impacting the pursuit of lower-level criminals, according to Alan Sheeley, partner at Pinsent Masons.

He said: “As the SFO increasingly focuses on large-scale frauds, a growing number of frauds, outside their remit, are not being addressed.”

“When combatting fraud, it is vital that authorities react quickly to pursue the money at the centre of the case – freezing and seizing assets hits criminals and can help reimburse victims.”

Read more: Everything you need to know about the SFO's Barclays probe

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