David Green, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, indicated they are no longer at risk of being closed down, despite the Tory pre-election promise to abolish them.
This message came across as Green told a conference that although a decision of the future was ‘imminent’, he was relaxed about it, suggesting no big changes would happen. His speech took place at the Sixth London White Collar Crime Institute hosted by the American Bar Association at the London office of international firm Berwin Leighton Paisner.
In their election campaign, the Conservative’s proposal suggested that the Serious Fraud Office would be merged with the National Crime Agency, however, they never took it further in the absence of a majority after the election. As a result, the plans did not make it into the Queen’s speech.
David Green has said:
‘What happens to the SFO is always a matter for ministers. Many of you will be aware there was a pre-election pledge to incorporate the SFO into the NCA. What is meant by incorporated is not known, whether it be simply working alongside or completely merged. I believe a decision is imminent, I can’t say what that decision will be but I can tell you I am entirely relaxed about the situation.’
He added that he was proud that the office had ‘returned to its original purpose’ of fighting the most serious cases of fraud and had moved away from a tendency in the past to ‘dumb down’ the cases it took on.
The QC also sought to clarify ’stories flying around that the SFO is somehow anti-privilege’ following a court judgment in which it was successful in obtaining documents that a defendant had claimed were covered by professional privilege.
As part of an investigation into alleged bribery and corruption by the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) the SFO successfully demanded that the mining company hand over documents it claimed were protected. After the order, lawyers predicted a ‘profound effect’ on corporate investigations and said that Green’s ’long war’ against unjustified claims of legal privilege had been justified.
Asked for his views today on the issue Green said he and the SFO had ‘complete respect’ for the long-standing principle of legal privilege but that it would not be afraid to ‘challenge’ what he said were ‘over the top claims’.