SFO lives to fight another day as Amber Rudd announces new economic crime centre to combat City fraud

Alys Key
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Amber Rudd has given the NCA some direct authority over the SFO (Source: Getty)

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has dodged Tory plans to close it down, but will be subject to direct orders from the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The announcement comes as home secretary Amber Rudd said that financial crime "can ruin people's lives" and announced a framework to crack down on money laundering.

She commented: “Today we are taking action against economic crime, and by that I mean the high-level crime, the billions that have been laundered through the City of London, making sure we reduce that and we are very clear we expect higher standards of integrity in this country."

Under the new measures, a new National Economic Crime Centre will be created within the NCA.

The NCA will in turn be able to task the SFO to investigate the worst offenders. Despite this, the government says that the SFO will continue to operate as an independent organisation, and that the step is to "improve the coordination of the law enforcement response".

The Conservative Party pledged to scrap the SFO ahead of the General Election earlier this year, by folding it into the NCA. Theresa May has floated the same plan twice before during her time as home secretary.

But lawyers had advised the government against the measure, and the plan appears to have now been scrapped.

Andrew Smith, a partner at leading criminal law firm Corker Binning today said: "It is reassuring that the Government appears to have abandoned its earlier plans to abolish the SFO. It is only right that the SFO, which has made significant progress under its outgoing director David Green QC, should continue to be tasked with investigating the worst cases of fraud, money laundering and corruption."

However, others have expressed concern that the SFO will lose some of its independence under the plans.

Alison Geary, counsel at WilmerHale'sUK investigations and criminal litigation practice commented: "Had it been incorporated into the NCA, the SFO would have always needed to function as a distinct and separate department. Now it will remain independent but be required to work at the instruction of the newly-announced National Economic Crime Centre. No information has been given about how the NECC will be funded or how that might affect the SFO’s funding."

A spokesperson for the SFO said: "We actively contributed to the government’s economic crime audit and will play our full part in the National Economic Crime Centre including through the provision of personnel and expertise.”

Read more: This surprising top fraud risk ranks above cyber crime and money laundering

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