From whisky and champagne investment fraud to stock market rigging, the Serious Fraud Office investigates and prosecutes cases of serious or complex fraud.
However, since there are no statutory definitions of ‘serious’, ‘complex’ or ‘fraud’, in practice the SFO investigates and prosecutes only the largest and most difficult cases – offences like fraudulent trading, false accounting and deception.
This stretches way beyond money laundering. Not so long ago an SFO accountant, for instance, had to count and sex a field of ostriches.
In fact the SFO deals with few cases where money laundering is the only offence. In most of our cases the fraudster has laundered money either in the process of stealing it or as part of covering their tracks.
The SFO’s success comes from combining the prosecution with the investigation.
All our work is performed by multi-disciplinary teams led by a case controller, who is an experienced in-house lawyer, and a team of SFO investigators, many of whom are accountants, lawyers and police officers.
Accountants at the SFO come across all types of businesses. The work often involves reconstructing books and records that have been falsified or identifying transactions that have been concealed. In doing so we pursue the documentary trail to other businesses, including financiers, customers and suppliers, to examine the other side of the transactions. These days that trail is as likely to be electronic as it is to be on paper.
Most investigations and prosecutions involve money tracing. If a fraudster has stolen money they will want to cover their trail by passing the funds through bank accounts or by buying and selling assets.
Accountants at the SFO frequently go to great lengths to pursue these series of transactions and the gradual piecing together of these complex jigsaws can be one of the most rewarding and time-consuming elements of the work.
The work is not limited to interpreting books, reconstructing transactions and money tracing. Investigators attend to advise police officers when premises are searched and documents are seized, and use the SFO’s powers to compel those who hold relevant documents to provide copies and explanations.
The SFO is currently undertaking a programme to improve the way we investigate and prosecute, principally to make sure that each case is dealt with as quickly as possible. Several projects are in progress in areas such as our use of IT; identifying best investigation practice and developing case management techniques.
But however advanced our systems become, the core of the SFO’s success remains the expertise and experience of its teams of prosecutors and investigators.
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