November 28, 2014 / 5:01 PM / 5 years ago

Britain's anti-fraud agency shows 'mixed' improvement: inspectors

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has made mixed progress in tackling shortcomings that have raised questions about its ability to fight crime, an inspection found.

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

Under Director David Green, hired in 2012, the anti-fraud agency has been trying to restore confidence in its ability to bring criminals and companies to book after a series of failures in high-profile cases.

The findings come as the SFO is tackling what Green has called its most demanding case-load ever, including an investigation into alleged manipulation of the Libor benchmark interest rate. It requested extra funding of 26.5 million pounds ($41 million) in October to help tackle big cases.

The Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (CPSI) visited the SFO - which investigates and prosecutes serious or complex fraud and corruption - in 2012 and made eight recommendations to overhaul its practices.

A follow-up inspection conducted at the end of 2013, the results of which were published in Friday’s report, found the agency had made limited progress in achieving four of those objectives, substantial progress in three and that one was no longer applicable.

The four weakest areas were the handling of intelligence, methods to assess staff and allocate resources, the quality of investigation work and casework processes, the report said.

The CPSI said the SFO’s “deep-rooted” problems coupled with the increasing complexity and length of its cases made a rapid turnaround unrealistic, but acknowledged that some of its efforts were starting to bear fruit.

“However, whilst there is a clear improving trend overall, much still needs to be done to achieve the intended results,” the CPSI said, describing the progress as a “mixed picture”.

Last December, the SFO launched a review into the circumstances that led to the collapse of a trial involving businessman Victor Dahdaleh, and this year it paid a 4.5 million-pound settlement to property moguls Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz after a botched investigation.

In response to Friday’s report, Green said he was pleased the CPSI had recognised changes had been made. “The SFO is in a very different and better place than it was in 2012,” he said.  

(1 US dollar = 0.6395 British pound)

Editing by Pravin Char

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