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Tackling Economic Crime

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 21 June 2018

The SFO is a key player in the response to economic crime and continues to operate independently, investigating and prosecuting some of the most serious and complex economic crime. I was pleased to announce earlier this month my appointment of its next director, Lisa Osofsky, who will shortly join the SFO to lead the organisation in its vital task.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that, despite the availability of deferred prosecution agreements, the SFO will still move directly to prosecute those involved in high-level economic crime, where it is appropriate to do so?

Yes. Deferred prosecution agreements are a useful tool for the SFO, and they should be used where appropriate and where the corporate entity in question has co-operated fully with the investigation, but it remains the case that in the majority of the SFO’s case load it proceeds to prosecution where that is appropriate and the evidence suggests it is the way forward.

The Attorney General knows that all of us want a really effective SFO, but we know that without the right resources it leans too heavily on big accountancy firms. There have been rumours recently of a link with a whistleblower that are interesting and very worrying indeed, so will he look into this?

If the hon. Gentleman gives me details of the case he has in mind, of course I will look into it. He will know that the SFO receives its funding in core budget and in blockbuster funding to deal with those extra-large cases that need additional funding. There has never been an occasion, and I hope there never will be, when the SFO has not been able to proceed for reasons of resources—that should remain the case.

I was glad to hear the Attorney General confirm that the SFO will continue to operate independently. What specific measures have been put in place to ensure that the new tasking power given to the National Crime Agency in relation to economic crime does not compromise either operational independence or the independence of the decision making on whether or not to bring prosecutions?

I can say three things to my hon. Friend on that. First, both the SFO and the NCA believe this power will hardly ever be used. Secondly, in order for it to be used both my consent and that of the Home Secretary are required. Thirdly, it seems to us that this is sensible co-ordination in the fight against economic crime, but it will not affect the opportunity that the SFO will continue to have to investigate and, of course, to prosecute its own cases. This affects only the opportunity to investigate; it does not affect making decisions on prosecution.

The Attorney General may be aware of correspondence I have been having with the Solicitor General about my constituent Alun Richards. There is a growing campaign across the House in relation to banking fraud, specifically in relation to Lloyds, rather than just the Royal Bank of Scotland. The SFO will not investigate. I understand it is independent but may I urge the Attorney General to give the organisation more teeth, in order to ensure that our constituents can get the money back, having been able to get the proof to say it was taken?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As I suspect he knows by now from that correspondence, the issue here is primarily that the SFO deals with a certain level of economic crime. It is not that economic crime that does not fall within that threshold level is not sensibly investigated and prosecuted by others. He will recognise that other agencies also investigate and prosecute economic crime, and we will want to make sure that they are properly resourced to do so. I hope that we will be able to find a satisfactory solution through those means.