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 After many years in the prosecution wilderness, it seems that the SFO are investigating and prosecuting with real intent.

It is true that they have had a number of high profile prosecutions which have failed, but it pays to take any investigation/prosecution by them VERY seriously. As the primary regulator of fraud and corruption in the UK, the SFO employs a variety of investigative tools to expose illegal activities and subject them to the full force of the law.

SFO Investigation & Prosecution Defence Lawyers London

They have now installed a new director and team, and have been given a little more funding to investigate the Libor scandal, so despite rumours that they may only have three more years to go, their investigations are likely to have real bite.

The SFO has strict statutory criteria which it must follow before it accepts a case to prosecute. In deciding on whether or not to mount a prosecution for one of these matters, the Director of the SFO will employ a multi-faceted approach and consider the merit of a prosecution in a number of ways, including whether:

  • The case under investigation, if not prosecuted, could significantly undermine the financial and wider commercial environment in the UK. The SFO will have particular regard for the impact that a decision not to prosecute would have on London, owing to its status as the leading commercial hub in the UK;
  • The matter under scrutiny represents a more sophisticated occurrence of fraud or other illegal behaviour that if left unchecked, could become more difficult to police if not stopped now;
  • There is a significant risk of harm or loss if a prosecution is not launched. The SFO will not confine itself to harm that has actually been suffered to merit an investigation, but will also have regard to whether any potential loss or harm is possible.

The SFO will not mount an investigation pursuant to a prosecution unless it is confident that its efforts will result in a conviction. It is for this very reason that the SFO will work in partnership with a range of investigative and regulatory agencies, including the police and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to develop a robust basis to merit an investigation into potentially illegal activities. It is paramount that anyone being investigated for being actively or passively involved in fraud or any other illegal behaviour consult with a law firm that understands the approach of the SFO in investigating and prosecuting these matters.

SFO Prosecution Remit

In short, the SFO investigates serious, complex frauds (with a value of over £1million) and, more recently, bribery and corruption. Unfortunately these crimes are not well understood and can easily be committed by people who do not understand how sophisticated the rules governing them are.

Policing against fraud is the traditional role of the SFO. Simply put, fraud is where someone acts in a deceptive way so to either cause someone else to suffer or for their own personal gain. The difficulty in understanding how the law on fraud operates is that it is framed in such a way to catch fraud in all forms, regardless as to how sophisticated it is – such that someone may not believe they are actually committing the offence. A party will be vulnerable to an investigation for fraud not only where they actively give information that they know to be false, but also where they refuse to provide information they otherwise would or take active steps to abuse a position that they hold.

The crime of fraud carries with it significant penalties if a prosecution is successful. The severity of punishment will depend on whether an individual or an organisation is the subject of a prosecution: individuals found to have been involved in fraud can face a maximum of ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine for their involvement; organisations on the other hand could suffer significant financial penalties if they are found to have been involved.

Bribery and corruption offences are newer additions to the SFO’s regulatory responsibilities and are, like fraud, very complex. Bribery is primarily governed by the Bribery Act 2010, which defines the offence, generally speaking, as someone giving an advantage – financial or otherwise – in order to motivate someone else to either: perform their duties in a way that is not the accepted norm; or, to reward them for having already done so.

It is often assumed that in the context of international business, UK legislation will not apply. This is a mistake: where an organisation has a commercial base in the UK it will be bound by UK law and liable for investigation and prosecution if it conducts bribery elsewhere in the world, regardless of how the offence is regulated in other countries where the organisation has business interests.

Corruption as an offence is also largely regulated by the Bribery Act 2010, but slightly more difficult to define, as the SFO itself has regularly pointed out. Simply put, corruption tends to involve the use of underhanded tactics in parties’ dealings with one another. This can include: the provision of gifts following on from, or in advance of, a deal or decision being concluded; parties insisting on observing unusual practices when negotiating with one another; decisions being based on illogical or conflicting information; and standard procedures being avoided or manipulated. Not unlike fraud, bribery carries with it significant penalties following a successful prosecution: imprisonment and financial sanctions for individuals and a potentially unlimited fine for companies.

Serious Fraud Lawyers London

What should you do once you have had notice that your case has been passed to the SFO, or if they have executed a dawn raid on your business?

  1. Prepare yourself for the long haul, these investigations may take MANY years before any decision is made;
  2. Prepare for the possibility that your assets and bank accounts may be restrained, pending prosecution, and that you will only be allowed a limited monthly amount to live on;
  3. See specialist serious fraud defence solicitors urgently, but take great care when choosing the firm to represent you:
    1. They should have a proven track record of high acquittals and overall success rate in serious, complex frauds;
    2. They should be on the LSC Serious Fraud Panel in case you may have to apply to the state for legal aid to pay for representation once you are charged;
    3. They should be experts in asset restraint and confiscation;
    4. They should have defended cases brought by the SFO and be familiar with the SFO’s mind-set, and be prepared to confidently defend your interests throughout the course of this stressful, confusing process;
    5. They must be familiar with SFO interviews because, although most are voluntary, the SFO do have the power to compel you to answer questions in certain situations;
    6. They should have a team of fraud specialist lawyers equipped to deal with huge volumes of documentary/computer evidence;
    7. They should work with leading specialist barristers, forensic accountants and computer analysis specialists.

Fortunately, you have found such a firm. We fulfil all the necessary criteria to defend or advise you (if you are a potential witness for the prosecution).

Our partner-led teams have thirty years of experience in defending complex fraud cases, many with a large international dimension. We employ our experience of working across jurisdictions in all cases being investigated by the SFO. Our multifaceted approach of involving specialist professionals to assist our client’s marks our Serious Fraud team out as a distinctive and progressive law firm that takes special care to protect our clients’ interests. We structure our approach to SFO investigations and prosecutions in a way that insulates our client’s from the majority of the administrative and logistical issues, allowing them to concentrate on working directly with our specialist solicitors to formulate a strategy to deal with the investigation.

Penny Muir currently defends an individual facing a SFO prosecution alleging a £750 million Ponzi fraud. Siobhain Egan currently advises an individual who is the subject of a £multi-million, multi-jurisdictional pension Ponzi fraud. Keith Wood represented one of the individuals investigated in the SFO Kaupthing Bank inquiry.

We work nationally and, fee levels permitting, we will travel to meet with you. Our history of being the preferred legal advisor to many organisations and individuals on SFO investigations and prosecutions is a testament to our tenacity and knowledge of the law: we employ a pragmatic, practical approach to all dealings with the SFO and other regulatory authorities and will ensure that your interests are protected. It is vital that you are able to speak openly and frankly to your legal team, in order to benefit from advice that is tailored to meet your particular needs. Please also refer to our Regulatory, Compliance & Professional Disciplinary Matters page and please refer to our case list to see some of our successful results in this field.

Contact our Specialist SFO Solicitors

For further information or to speak to one of our top SFO solicitors please telephone us on 020 3411 1065, complete our online enquiry form, or contact Jeffrey LewisSiobhain EganMiles HermanPenny Muir or Keith Wood. Do not hesitate to contact our team if you suspect that you may become the subject of an SFO investigation, or have already been notified that investigations underway. Your discussions with our lawyers will be conducted under strict confidentiality, and any decision you take will be based on expert legal analysis and pragmatic, commercially oriented reasoning.

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