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New UK white collar crime boss pledges to keep agency independent

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By Reuters
New UK white collar crime boss pledges to keep agency independent
FILE PHOTO: Canary Wharf and the City of London are seen from Greenwich Park, London, Britain, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay   -   Copyright  Hannah Mckay(Reuters)

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – The new head of Britain’s white-collar crime agency pledged on Monday to keep it independent, but work more closely with international enforcement watchdogs and the private sector to stop fraud, drawing on her experience with the FBI.

Former U.S. federal prosecutor Lisa Osofsky was named director of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in June, saying she wanted to embolden an agency whose future has been in doubt.

She took up the reins last week and on Monday sought to reassure lawyers that the SFO has a standalone future.

“I started a five-year term with the Attorney General’s support and commitment to maintaining the independence and prominence of this organisation,” Osofsky said in her first speech.

A dual U.S.-British national, Osofsky joins from Exiger, a financial crime compliance company. Before that she prosecuted more than 100 cases for the U.S. government.

Lawyers reacted furiously last year to now dropped plans from Britain’s ruling Conservative Party to fold the agency into the National Crime Agency after a series of high-profile setbacks.

There were also questions about how the SFO would fit in with the planned National Economic Crime Centre (NECC). Osofsky said the SFO will be seconding staff to the new centre.

Christopher David, counsel in WilmerHale’s UK white collar practise, said Osofsky has firmly dismissed the suggestion that she has previously supported folding the SFO into the NCA.

Under her predecessor David Green, the agency was praised by politicians for securing deferred prosecution agreements, or DPAs, with Rolls-Royce and Tesco, and yielding combined fines of around 630 million pounds.

Osofsky said working with the newcomers to DPAs, such as Argentina, Canada and Australia would be a priority for her, but companies seeking a DPA must show efforts to “clean up the house”.

She also wanted to cooperate with a range of stakeholders to make use of “new ideas and approaches that are out there”.

“While much of it is familiar territory, there are some interesting new ideas, including deliberate references to the enforcement methods used by the U.S. authorities and the suggestion that similar methods can be used in the UK,” WilmerHale’s David said.

Osofsky said Britain’s revenue and customs department is a “natural ally” to build strong cases, and recouping proceeds of crime was also a priority.

Technology companies needed to work with the SFO to help it access encrypted data, she said.

In April this year, the SFO said its core funding would rise by around 50 percent this year, helping it to take on bigger cases.

(Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)