Figures obtained from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have revealed that the prosecuting authority has increased its use of orders to seize and freeze assets of those it suspects of having been involved in fraudulent activity in the last financial year.
These orders, often referred to as “restraint orders”, enable the SFO to freeze assets when there is evidence that these assets are associated with criminal activity. The new figures are seen to demonstrate an increasingly proactive approach by the SFO in its attempts to prevent criminals from liquidating their assets. This follows recent criticisms regarding a perceived lack of assertiveness in this area, with Prime Minister Theresa May putting forward plans to disband the agency during her general election campaign in June this year. These plans have since been dropped.
The figures suggest that the SFO is increasingly focusing its attention and resources on large-scale fraud, leading to criticisms that the authority is failing to effectively target other types of fraud. With this data showing that a consequence of the SFO’s approach has been an overall reduction in the number of fraud prosecutions, it has been argued that there are now a growing number of frauds that are falling outside the remit of the SFO.
The publishing of these figures follows the release of statistics by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which show that fraud offences in England and Wales increased by 4% in the year to June, reaching over 653,000 reported cases. This demonstrates the fifth consecutive year in which increases of fraud have risen at this level, with over half of these crimes being committed online. However, separate data gathered by the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) suggest the number of fraud offences being carried out may, in fact, be much higher. The CSEW, which aims to establish how many crimes have been committed instead of focusing on those that have been reported to the police, estimates that the number of fraud offences carried out in England and Wales in the year to June was approximately 3.3 million.
Fraud is an extremely complex area of law, but with years of experience in handling such cases on behalf of our clients, the criminal defence solicitors at Wilford Smith are best placed to advise you in relation to fraud investigations. There are significant consequences for individuals or businesses found guilty of committing such offences, including heavy financial penalties, substantial prison sentences, removal of assets, a criminal record and irreparable damage to their business and reputation, so it is vital to get the best legal advice at the earliest possible stage of any investigation.
Our solicitors are based in London, Sheffield and Manchester, and serve clients across England and Wales. For fraud defence advice, contact us today on 0808 169 5677.