Just three cases begun by fraud squad tip-offs

Marion Dakers
THE SERIOUS Fraud Office’s whistleblowing service received 2,731 tip-offs last year – but just three formal investigations have been opened using the information gained.

Around 225 people a month got in touch with SFO Confidential last year, according to internal figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The number of tip-offs remained fairly steady throughout the year, hitting a peak of 300 a month in October.

The service, launched in November 2011, continues to attract whistleblowers in spite of the SFO’s decision to close its phone line in June “because a disproportionate amount of staff time was being spent dealing with telephone calls that did not contribute to the aim”.

The SFO’s budget has been slashed from more than £53m in 2008 to £34.8m for the current financial year. It now accepts reports of serious fraud or corruption by email, post or through its website.

Until the phone service was shut down, around a third of its tip-offs were received by phone, according to a parliamentary question in November.

Victims of fraud are encouraged to call Action Fraud, run by the City of London Police and the National Fraud Authority, which is an agency of the Home Office and has a budget of £9.1m for the current financial year.

The SFO is involved in 23 ongoing investigations, according to its website. Its caseload includes a probe into Weavering Capital, which went into administration in 2009, and Barclays Bank over some of its commercial arrangements with Qatar Holdings in 2008.

In 2011-12, cases brought by the SFO resulted in 38 criminal convictions and £16.2m in civil settlements.

But the office has suffered a string of embarrassments in the past year including the collapse of its case against the Tchenguiz brothers, which has sparked an ongoing damages claim for £200m, and a political row over payments made to departing executives.