The Serious Fraud Office’s attention to large-scale corruption and fraud probes together with budget cuts to crime agencies has resulted in smaller scale fraud not being addressed, according to a law firm’s analysis published today.
Reported fraud offences rose by 4% last year, from 617,112, to 641,539, international firm Pinsent Masons aid. However, over the same period, the number of prosecutions fell by 12%, to 8,304 from 9,489.
According to Pinsents, the SFO’s focus on larger-scale frauds creates increasing number of instances where the authorities are ’not stepping in quickly enough to freeze funds, compensate victims or prosecute’.
The fall in prosecutions may also partly be explained by budget cuts to enforcement authorities, such as the National Crime Agency (NCA), City of London Police and other local police forces, the firm added.
Alan Sheeley, head of the civil fraud and asset recovery team, said: ‘As the SFO increasingly focuses on large-scale frauds, a growing number of frauds, outside their remit, are not being addressed. As the number of reported fraud offences is rising, ensuring law enforcement bodies receive adequate funding and resources to carry out investigations is essential.’
However, the figures show that the SFO has doubled the number of times it has frozen assets of those suspected of being involved in fraud. Instances rose from four in 2015/16 to eight in 2016/17.
The SFO has been under scrutiny recently and was threatened with ‘incorporation’ into the NCA in an election manifesto pledge by the Conservative party. The proposal came despite high profile charges, including against Barclays, and a record deferred prosecution agreement with Rolls Royce. SFO director David Green has indicated that the office’s future is secure, suggesting the amalgamation threat has been dropped.