SFO reprieved in anti-crime overhaul

HOME SECRETARY Theresa May has reprieved the Serious Fraud Office for at least two years in a move that will give it the chance to prove its value as an independent unit.

She has excluded the office from the new overarching National Crime Agency, intended to lead the UK’s fight against serious and organised crime, though only for the time being.

However, the NCA – to be headed by a chief constable overseeing officers with a combination of police, customs and immigration powers and beginning operations during 2013 – will have an “economic command” with the remit “to look much more closely at economic crime”.

Speaking in the Commons, May denied a claim by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell that the SFO, headed by director Richard Alderman (pictured), has been put on a year’s notice resulting in uncertainty that had already lead to staff leaving.

May said: “What we have said is absolutely clear. The SFO is continuing to exist and to operate as it has done.”

In the meantime a co-ordination board, initially chaired by the outgoing Serious Organised Crime Agency, will be set up to “bring together those involved in dealing with economic crime, including the SFO and other agencies”.

May added: “In due course we will consider what is the appropriate relationship between the NCA, the SFO and other agencies that deal with economic crime.”

However, the official guidance afterwards stated: “The relationship between the NCA and the SFO will be given further consideration as the NCA develops.”

Labour shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP dismissed “the grandly-titled economic crime command” as “a far cry from the home secretary’s plans to merge the SFO and parts of the Financial Services Authority”.

Instead we have a co-ordinating committee, claimed Cooper, who said she feared the SFO risked being consigned to limbo.

Official guidance later suggested that decisions on the future of the SFO will be taken some time after the NCA begins operations.

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