UK's anti-fraud squad 'needs training' says report

LONDON Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:06pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the country's top fraud-busting agency, lacks clarity and focus and its future success depends on the intensive training of its "hard-pressed" staff, a new report into the agency says.

In the long-awaited review, Mike Fuller, the chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate makes eight recommendations, including the reorganising of the SFO's fragmented intelligence handling process.

Fuller also urged the cash-strapped agency, which operates on an annual budget of just 30 million pounds ($48 million), to focus on the complex cases it was designed to handle rather than "media-orientated" fraud cases.

Once dubbed the "Seriously Flawed Office", the SFO's future was cast into doubt last year after a succession of failed and flawed investigations.

Most recently the agency was accused by a judge of "sheer incompetence" in an investigation into prominent property investors Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, who this month won a multi-million pound lawsuit against the SFO over the botched probe.

On Tuesday Fuller said the SFO must ensured that staff have the skills and commitment for each case and there must be a transparent process for pursuing civil recoveries.

He also gave qualified backing to the SFO's new director, David Green, who took over in April.

"Just as this is a critical time, it is also a window of opportunity, as the new director has engendered new levels of confidence in staff and stakeholders alike," Fuller said.

"His vision is accepted for the time being, and the organisation must use this impetus to drive out the risks ... and accept that change is necessary and in the interest of all."

Fuller said although the SFO employed some "very capable" staff, its casework handling process were weak and even basic record-keeping needed standardising.

Green has already welcomed the findings of the report, saying last week that he has pre-empted and implemented many if not all of its recommendations.

He has beefed up quality control, brought on board experienced criminal practitioners including Alun Milford as general counsel, Kevin Davis as chief investigator and retired judge Geoffrey Rivlin as special adviser in an attempt to ensure the SFO is fit for purpose.

And he has ditched the reassurance offered by his predecessor that those self-reporting criminality will avoid prosecutions, closed a whistleblower hotline and speaks of using "new methods of investigation and sources of intelligence".

($1=0.6284 British pounds)

(This story was refiled to correct typographical error in spelling of 'botched')

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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