The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is investigating only a small percentage of the tip offs it receives as it struggles with an on-going lack of funding, a law firm has claimed.
According to figures obtained by City firm Pinsent Masons in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, just 16 investigations were opened by the SFO in the year to June 2015. The number of whistleblowing reports to the SFO rose by 13% to more 2,800 in the same year.
The reports were made though SFO Confidential, a dedicated email address for those wanting to report suspicions of serious fraud or corruption.
The firm says that a lack of funding could mean some cases of serious fraud or corruption are not being fully investigated. It cited the fact that the SFO has made four requests for extra funding in as many years as evidence its lack of resources.
Last month the SFO asked for £21.1m of extra funding, amounting to 60% of its budget, to pay for extra investigations.
Barry Vitou, a partner and head of global corporate crime at Pinsent Masons, said it was ‘disconcerting’ that such a tiny fraction of tip offs are developing into full investigations.
He said: ‘Investigations carried out by the SFO are both time-consuming and expensive. Opening a new case becomes an uninviting prospect when resources are already over-stretched. The idea that available budget does not impact outcomes does not hold up to much scrutiny.
‘With a whistle-blower reporting system in place but not enough money, the SFO will be forced to continue to prioritise only the cases it considers most important – leaving others to fall by the wayside.’
But the SFO pointed that not all fraud falls within its ‘very specific remit’ .
A spokesperson said: ‘If the information provided is not for us, we pass it on to other relevant law enforcement agencies and regulators. To suggest the SFO has not been able to investigate is deliberately to misinterpret this data.
'It is also wrong to suggest that the SFO’s budget impacts its ability to pursue cases – the SFO will never refuse to take on an investigation on grounds of cost, as demonstrated by its current caseload.’