The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) faces a 34 per cent budget cut during the next financial year, despite getting more defendants convicted and opening 16 new investigations.
During 2014/2015 the SFO opened 16 new investigations compared to 12 the previous year, including major probes into Tesco, Forex and the Sweett Group, while the number of defendants convicted increased from 11 to 18, with the agency securing a 78 per cent conviction rate.
The SFO’s annual report shows that its case load comprises 30 defendants in seven cases that have been charged and await trial, including 12 of the Libor investigations.
The agency is now considering the possibility of deferred prosecution agreements in a number of cases.
Director David Green QC said: “I am confident that this new tool will make a real difference in the SFO’s dealings with cooperative corporates.”
The budget cut raised fears among lawyers about the SFO’s ability to secure convictions in major cases.
The cut will mean spending will reduce from £69.1m in 2014/15 to a planned £45.1m for the 2015/16 financial year.
Barry Vitou, partner and head of global corporate crime at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “The SFO’s slightly more generous budget over the last two years seems to have been bearing fruit in terms of more investigations and more convictions. The planned budget cuts for next year could put that progress at risk.”
“While they may get additional funding as the result of successful investigations, there is no guarantee as to when or if this will come.”
He added: “Without that certainty, it makes it difficult for them to commit resources to the long and detailed work of unravelling the structures that fraudsters hide behind.”
“High levels of fraud in an economy undermine business confidence. If we want to be serious about combating fraud, then the SFO needs to continue to have access to serious and sustained funding.”
By Marcel LeGouais