SFO to lose chief operating officer

LONDON Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:56pm GMT

A sign is displayed in an unmarked Serious Fraud Office vehicle parked outside a building, in Mayfair, central London March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

A sign is displayed in an unmarked Serious Fraud Office vehicle parked outside a building, in Mayfair, central London March 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - The chief operating officer of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) will quit this year as the agency's new head, David Green, embarks on a recruitment drive and overhaul to instil fresh faith in the beleaguered organisation.

The SFO said on Tuesday that Christian Bailes would leave this financial year after agreeing a confidential exit package with the agency's former head, Richard Alderman.

The latest senior SFO official to quit is expected to be replaced by a new chief financial officer, a spokesman said.

But Green, who took the helm in April, dismissed suggestions made during a Parliamentary Committee quizzing that the agency was continuing to suffer from a damaging brain drain. He said he had every confidence he could attract good staff.

Green, considered by lawyers a more traditional prosecutor than his predecessor, is on a quest to bring in fresh blood to an agency that has haemorrhaged talent and seen morale collapse.

He has beefed up quality control, appointed a general counsel, a chief investigator and a retired judge as special adviser in an attempt to ensure the SFO is fit for purpose.

And lawyers expect him to welcome an expected critical government report into how the agency handles its work, which is due to be published this month, saying he has already pre-empted and implemented many of its suggestions.

Nevertheless, his first six months have been marred by embarrassment. He has been forced to close an investigation into the high-profile Tchenguiz brothers and their property dealings that was so flawed a judge slammed the SFO for "sheer incompetence".

Two weeks ago, the National Audit Office refused to sign off the agency's annual accounts because of an "irregular" 400,000 pound-plus severance payment for the SFO's former chief executive, Phillippa Williamson.

Green will be ensuring that the exit package for Chris Bailes will go through proper channels. SFO pay-offs have to be agreed by the agency's paymaster, the finance ministry.

The SFO, which operates on a shoe-string annual budget of around 30 million pounds, works on around 100 high profile and complex cases per year, of which currently 20 to 30 go to trial each year. It employs around 300 permanent staff.

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Tim Castle)

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