On 7 September 2020, Lisa Osofsky, the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), delivered a keynote address at the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime. In light of Covid-19, this year’s speech was delivered virtually, via YouTube. In her speech, Ms Osofsky re-examined the four key priorities that she outlined at her first address to the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime in 2018 and referred to a number of new developments which she said would affect the SFO’s future work. A summary of her key points is set out below.
1. Cooperation with UK and international partners
Ms Osofsky explained that the SFO continues to focus on developing its relationships with national and international law enforcement agencies, to develop a mutual understanding between agencies and to carve out ways to learn from and assist each other, both at an operational and strategic level.
She referenced the recent Airbus deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) as an example of a successful international investigation: run by the French National Financial Prosecutor (PNF), the SFO, the US Department of Justice and Department of State and reflecting years of investment from many other countries. The investigation culminated in Airbus entering into a global settlement of €3.6 billion, representing the largest corruption related DPA which has been achieved to date.
Ms Osofsky reported on the SFO’s return on its investment which has, over the last four years, yielded contributions of over £1.5 billion to the Treasury (of which €1 billion was from the Airbus DPA); and referred to the ongoing support that the SFO is giving to the National Economic Crime Centre through the secondment of five SFO employees to the agency.
In terms of technology, Ms Osofsky explained that the SFO is focusing on the following areas:
- Unlocking the benefits of the eDiscovery platform it has invested in to process and analyse data more quickly and comprehensively;
- Ensuring that the SFO splits its resources effectively, using its people where they can add value and technology to replicate processes and read patterns; and
- Industrialising the SFO’s existing approach to digital forensics with the aim of enabling better targeting and extraction of data.
3. Intelligence capabilities
Ms Osofsky spoke of the progress made by the SFO’s Intelligence Division, which since she became Director of the SFO two years ago, has grown in size, gained more resources in areas such as human intelligence and financial data analysis, and continues to develop a more proactive approach.
4. Focus and pace of investigations
Ms Osofsky spoke of the time and energy that the SFO has devoted in the last two years to streamline its work, recoil from confirmation bias to ensure that the right questions are being posed and to close investigations where cases are not going to meet the tests set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. She emphasised that closing cases does not mean the investigations were a waste of money and that justice is about exonerating the innocent as well as convicting the guilty.
She recognised that increasing the pace of the SFO’s investigations was never going to be quick or easy but the organisation has already seen some benefits of their increased focus whilst continuing to progress the bulk of its caseload.
5. Recent developments
Ms Osofsky ended her speech by touching on two developments which she said would shape the SFO’s future.
First, she commented on the SFO’s use of DPAs which, in her opinion, is driving better corporate citizenship and making ‘better companies’. She referred to the G4S DPA, agreed on 10 July 2020, as being a ‘DPA with teeth’ resulting in a major government supplier being subjected to close scrutiny over the term of the DPA to ensure its house stays in order and UK taxpayers get the value they should from these substantial government contracts.
Second, she spoke of the impact of Covid-19, both in terms of shaping the SFO’s future caseload as well as the impact that the pandemic has had on the SFO’s existing cases. She explained that the SFO has, alongside other enforcement agencies, been assessing the opportunities that Covid-19 has presented to criminals, and that the SFO stands ready to take on appropriate Covid-19 related cases. She also pointed to some recent developments to demonstrate that the SFO has continued to advance its cases irrespective of the pandemic: the charges which the SFO brought in the GPT case in July 2020, the DPA that the SFO secured with G4S and the Unaoil trial which resumed following lockdown and culminated in the conviction of two executives and a guilty plea from a third in July 2020.
Whilst the SFO’s key priorities remain unchanged: taking an active approach to intelligence, working with national and international partners to investigate and prosecute crime, enhancing its technological capabilities, and bringing greater pace and focus to its investigations; it remains to be seen whether the SFO will continue its recent trend of closing long-standing investigations and how it will approach new investigations commenced under Ms Osofsky’s stewardship.
It is interesting to note that the Director did not use this platform to remark on the reform of the law on corporate criminality, a topic that she and the SFO have been advocating for many years, and in respect of which Ms Osofsky has expressed her frustrations at the UK’s ‘antiquated’ system for prosecuting corporate fraud which she sees as ‘not at all reflective of today’s world’.