Over the last 10 years, the UK Government has made a concerted effort to target businesses and individuals that it believes are engaged in fraudulent financial practices, bribery and corruption.
Since the Fraud Act 2006 was brought into force, prosecutions for these offences have increased considerably, with specialist prosecuting authorities such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) routinely relying on this legislation to achieve convictions across a variety of sectors. For those subject to allegations of fraud, and an accompanying investigation by the SFO, the impact on their professional and private life can be significant. If you find yourself subject to such accusations, it is essential that you equip yourself with the best legal advice available. Our Criminal Defence Team specialises in providing legal representation in relation to all types of financial crime, and is dedicated to providing our clients with the best possible defence.
What is the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)?
The SFO is a prosecuting authority that, as part of the UK’s criminal justice system, has responsibility for investigating and prosecuting fraud cases that are serious or complex in nature, as well as those involving bribery and corruption in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Factors relevant to the decision by the SFO to undertake an investigation include whether the alleged criminal activity undermines UK PLC financial or commercial interests generally, and in the City of London specifically, whether high levels of financial loss have occurred, whether there is significant public interest in an investigation being conducted, and whether the case involves a new species of fraud.
The SFO is staffed by lawyers, investigators, forensic accountants, digital forensic experts and other specialists who provide the relevant skills and support needed to carry out investigations into financial crimes. Working closely with other law enforcement agencies such as the National Crime Agency (NCA), City of London Police, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the SFO aims to tackle serious and organised crime in support of the UK Government’s Serious and Organised Crime Strategy.
From 30 September 2017, the SFO will also have the power to carry out investigations and prosecutions in relation to the new offence of corporate failure to prevent the facilitation of overseas tax evasion.
How does the SFO carry out investigations?
An investigation by the SFO begins with initial information gathering, referred to as the “pre-investigation” stage. This information comes from a wide range of sources including other law enforcement agencies, whistleblowers, victims and through “self-reporting” by corporations themselves. The SFO’s Investigation Unit, comprised of intelligence operatives, financial intelligence officers and lawyers, then analyse this information to establish whether the alleged activity warrants a criminal investigation. If it is established that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that serious or complex fraud has taken place, and if certain legal tests are met, the SFO can accept a case for criminal investigation.
If it is decided to proceed with a criminal investigation, the SFO’s lawyers and investigators work together from the beginning of this stage through to prosecution. This practice is distinguished from other investigating procedures in the UK, whereby investigations are generally carried out by the police before evidence is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who decide whether to proceed with a prosecution.
What is a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA)?
In some cases, a DPA will be reached when there is sufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of conviction. Instead of proceeding with a trial and conviction, the SFO and the organisation will reach an agreement whereby the prosecution is suspended on the condition that the organisation meets certain conditions. This will often involve the organisation paying substantial fines and costs for their criminal behaviour, while protecting the jobs of innocent employees and avoiding a lengthy and costly trial. Such an agreement will only be reached where there is full cooperation by the organisation with the SFO’s investigation. A DPA may apply to a company or organisation, but never in relation to individuals.
What powers does the SFO have under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002?
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, as well as investigating and prosecuting cases, the SFO has the power to recover property that has been acquired as a result of criminal acts. These powers enable the SFO to carry out confiscation investigations and request confiscation orders when a conviction has been achieved, seek compensation orders on behalf of victims of fraud, and enforce these orders once they have been granted. In cases where there has not been a conviction, the SFO can apply to the High Court for a civil recovery order to seize property that represents the proceeds of crime.
Why choose Wilford Smith?
For individuals convicted in high value and complex fraud cases, the consequences can have a huge impact on their lives. If you are found guilty of such an offence, the court can hand down a substantial financial penalty or a custodial sentence, leaving you with a criminal record and irreversible damage to your reputation and that of your business. For these reasons, you need the best available legal expertise in order to conduct a robust defence. The Financial Crime Solicitors at Wilford Smith have the required skills, knowledge and determination to ruthlessly develop a top-level strategy for you, ensuring the best outcome in any case.
Contact our SFO Defence Lawyers in England and Wales
At Wilford Smith, our lawyers are highly knowledgeable and skilled in defending clients against serious fraud allegations. We know how worrying it is to have your affairs investigated by a prosecuting authority, such as the SFO. At this challenging time we know you need an understanding, personal approach and expert advice on how best to defend your case. We take pride in our reputation for unique representation, giving our clients a service that is exceptionally strategic and results driven. We are based in Sheffield and London and assist clients across England and Wales. Contact us today on 01709 828 044 to find out how we can help.