The Serious Fraud Office is investigating just two cases relating to the Bribery Act more than two years after the new law came into force, the Gazette has learned.
A freedom of information request has revealed the SFO has yet to bring any prosecutions under the new legislation and has just three other matters under development that have yet to lead to a prosecution.
The organisation has nine other ongoing investigations relating to matters that pre-date the Bribery Act.
City lawyers have warned that the SFO will struggle to enforce the act under current budget restraints.
According to its 2012/13 annual report, the SFO’s total budget will be cut to £32.2m this year and to £30.8m in 2014. As recently as 2008/09, the SFO budget was more than £53m.
Barry Vitou, head of the corporate crime team at City firm Pinsent Masons, described the Bribery Act as ‘champagne legislation with a beer money budget’.
‘Whichever way you cut it, the SFO budget has been depleted over the years. While the SFO does have a credit line from the Treasury in the context of blockbuster funding, it remains cash-strapped day to day.’
Vitou, who co-authors a website dedicated to the Bribery Act, said it was unlikely a conviction would have been secured in the space of two years.
‘That said, the SFO will come under increasing pressure to visibly enforce the act now the law has had its second birthday. I would predict news sooner rather than later,’ he added.
Aaron Stephens, a partner in financial crime and investigations at City firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said the SFO director David Green QC would take a different approach to his predecessor Richard Alderman.
Stephens said: ‘[Green] has taken steps to get morale back up and re-emphasise the office’s role as a prosecutor of serious and complex crime. In the Alderman era it was more about incentivising companies to co-operate and self-report any wrongdoing, with the carrot of a civil outcome.
‘Green now has the chance to prove his mettle by using more stick than carrot. [But] with extremely complicated and difficult-to-prove activity going on, a prosecutor needs adequate resources to tackle it, otherwise they are fighting a losing battle.’
In addition to the SFO, the City of London police is investigating around 25 individual cases of bribery.
There have been calls for changes to the legislation, but in a letter published on Vitou’s website, justice secretary Chris Grayling confirmed he has ‘no intention to relax the application’ of the act.