Serious Fraud Office property raids fall to zero
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) did not undertake a single property raid in 2020-21, according to its response to an FOI request from consulting firm Accuracy.
The organisation carried out 22 raids in the previous year, with the sharp drop in raids reflecting challenging pandemic conditions and changes in its strategy.
It was unable to carry out raids during lockdown may have limited the its efforts to seize computer hardware, documents and other evidence from suspects.
Meanwhile, up to 90 per cent of SFO staff switched to remote working during the lockdown, which further reduced its capabilities to sanction raids.
The lack of raids is also consistent with public reports that the SFO opened relatively few investigation in 2021.
For instance, Accuracy notes that rather than conducting raids, the SFO has sought investigation targets’ cooperation through the use of deferred prosecution agreements.
It has cooperated with local police forces in certain investigations, and may also be relying on evidence obtained from foreign counterparts through the use of mutual legal assistance requests.
Fraud is now estimated to cost the UK economy £137bn per year, and HMRC calculates that £4.9bn has been lost to furlough fraud alone during the pandemic.
Accuracy expects the SFO to step up the number of raids it carries out in 2021-2022, in order to deal with the backlog of cases that built up during the pandemic.
Morgan Heavener, partner at Accuracy, said: “The economic cost of fraud to businesses is extremely high. Now that pandemic restrictions have eased, the SFO will want to show that it’s taking every measure to conduct thorough investigations. Given that SFO investigations generally take several years, it remains to be seen whether the drop in raids ultimately has a meaningful impact on prosecutions.”