SFO: road to nowhere?

The Serious Fraud Office, you could argue, has enough on its plate with the
row over the BAE Systems investigation.

So perhaps that explains, in part, why its new head Richard Alderman
(pictured) wants the body to look at different kinds of frauds ­ so-called
‘Nigerian scams’, boiler-room frauds and pyramid schemes.

But, in pitching the body a bit lower in its ambitions, is it heading in the
wrong direction?

What’s happened?

Richard Alderman, a barrister and former director of the Inland Revenue’s
Special Compliance Office responsible for criminal investigations, took over at
the helm of the SFO last week. Almost immediately he announced the intention to
pursue ‘consumer’ frauds. But Alderman’s pronouncements have left some wondering
whether he is trying to find a new role for the SFO.

Other bodies such as the Office of Fair Trading have scored notable successes
exposing construction companies’ bid-rigging and forcing banks to rethink
overdraft charges. The City of London Police is also upping staffing levels, and
specialises in boiler-room scams.

The SFO is the only organisation with a specific charter to investigate
multimillion-pound white-collar fraud.

Andrew Durant, managing director of fraud investigations at forensic
accounting firm Navigant, described Alderman’s comments in the national press as

‘When you take a consumer fraud you are looking at high volume low value,
rather than what the SFO was set up for, which was to look at high value
one-offs,’ he said.

What’s going to happen?

Durant is not the only person who thinks the SFO should think bigger. Ros
Wright, the agency’s director from 1997 to 2003, believes Alderman should focus
on regaining the SFO’s budget from the Treasury to investigate complex overseas
corruption cases such as BAE Systems.

‘He needs to be tackling the overseas corruption cases which are difficult to
gain enough evidence to bring to court,’ she said.

Simon Bevan, head of the fraud services team at BDO Stoy Hayward, believes if

the UK gets a reputation for being soft on big ticket fraud then US corporates
could benefit. ‘The US is trying to get an advantage in the marketplace by
suggesting the UK is less trustworthy,’ he said.

The SFO itself says that it will not be departing from big ticket corporate
frauds and that it has always historically been involved in some consumer

‘We hope to become more involved in helping the public prevent themselves
becoming victims of crime.’ a spokesman said.

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