City Exclusive – SFO’s ‘unique skillset’ will be needed to tackle UK’s worsening fraud epidemic, Lisa Osofsky says
The director of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has said the agency’s skillset will be needed to combat the mounting levels of increasingly complex and high-value frauds facing the UK’s court system.
The letter comes in response to reports in this paper showing the number of fraud cases reaching the UK Crown Courts dropped by 13 per cent in the first half of this year, as record wait times hindered prosecutions.
A backlog of almost 60,000 cases waiting to be heard in the UK’s Crown Courts has caused wait times for criminal trials to hit record highs of 251 days.
At the same time, the combined value of fraud cases reaching Crown Courts almost tripled in the first half of 2022, as a series of multi-million cases bolstered the figures, in a sign that fraudsters are stealing ever greater sums of money.
In her letter to City A.M., SFO director Lisa Osofsky said “the need for our unique skill set is only increasing,” as she noted that while the average value of frauds has risen, criminals are now also using increasingly complex methods to hide their ill-gotten gains.
“Increasingly, fraud not only spans multiple countries but also involves hidden offshore accounts or shell companies, emerging technologies and vast amounts of complex information and digital data – making it harder for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute,” Osofsky said.
Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, said the figures signal the necessity for well-funded law enforcement agencies, as she argued that “it’s a classic case of false economy to leave the law enforcement bodies responsible for tackling the UK’s huge fraud epidemic so underfunded.”
In her letter, Osofsky added that “behind the rising trial numbers lie human stories,” as she argued trial data “shouldn’t just be considered a statistic” but should instead be seen as a “measure of how prosecutors like ourselves deliver justice to victims.”
The comments come as widespread disruption in the UK’s court system, as a result of the ongoing barristers strikes, threatens to stall prosecutions further.
David Savage, head of financial crime at Stewarts, said: “If the SFO is to effectively tackle the anticipated increase in fraudulent activity, it needs a budget sufficient to deal with this incredibly complex area of criminality.”
“It also needs legislative fire power by way of a ‘failure to prevent economic crime’ offence. Only with these two foundation pillars can the SFO hope to reverse its recent fortunes and once again become a tour de force in the global fight against financial crime.”