PracticeAccounting FirmsThe corridors of power …

The corridors of power ...

My old friends from the Serious Fraud Office have been down at Southwark Crown Court for the conclusion of the Wickes trial which opened in January.

Henry Sweetbaum, the former Wickes chairman and chief executive, and his co-defendants, experienced the painfully slow pace with which the wheels turn in such cases. In length and complexity, the Wickes case harks back to the Maxwell trial, which opened in May 1995 and lasted eight months.

The talk at the SFO’s Elm House headquarters is about who will replace Ros Wright, who bows out as SFO director next April after five years in the hotseat.

Where predecessors, including Dame Barbara Mills and George Staple, were dogged by cases like Guinness and Maxwell, Wright has deftly turned the tables, setting the agenda with speeches on white-collar crime rather than simply reacting to bad news.

Wright was uniquely qualified for the job. She ran a fraud investigations unit under the Director of Public Prosecutions, then oversaw the prosecutions department at the Securities and Futures Authority.

Possible successors include Chris Dickson, the highly regarded counsel to the Joint Disciplinary Scheme and former number two at the SFO. The headhunters are currently trawling through the list of candidates.

Along with a change of director, long-suffering staff at Elm House have been told they are at last moving to new premises. The betting is on a building in Furnival Street, between Holborn and Chancery Lane.

Just about anything would be an improvement.

By the time the SFO took up residence in 1988, Elm House was already looking pretty tired. It was formerly a newspaper office and, even then, the lifts were second-hand.

No surprise that they keep breaking down.

The poor old Serious Farce Office became known as the Nightmare on Elm Street. Even now, any setback for the SFO has the headline writers reaching for more of the same.

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