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No one caught up in an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) could fail to be concerned by the prospect. The SFO is a specialist investigating and prosecuting authority covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The SFO investigates and prosecutes financial crime as well as bribery and corruption allegations, but will only deal with the most complex and serious criminal. The SFO is concerned with wrong doing where there is alleged to be significant harm to the public, the reputation and integrity of the UK as an international centre of finance, or to the economy as a whole. The involvement of the SFO must therefore be taken extremely seriously.
There are a numbers of way in which involvement in an SFO investigation may look different to those conducted by other prosecuting authorities and it is important that you seek expert legal advice to guide you through the process.
Usually, if a person is invited for interview in relation to a criminal investigation, they cannot be compelled to answer questions. For interviews conducted by the SFO, this may not be the case. The Director of the Serious Fraud Office can compel an individual or company to provide information or documents believed to be relevant to an investigation. The power comes from Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987. An interview under this provision may be referred to as a ‘section 2 notice interview’. If you are required to attend such an interview and you fail to cooperate, you may be committing an offence punishable by imprisonment. In addition, the reckless provision of false or misleading information during such an interview could also be an offence punishable by a prison term.
If you are asked to attend an interview like this, you will of course be concerned. But it is important not to see the process as entirely negative. These interviews are conducted at an early stage of an investigation. They provide an opportunity to really influence the tone and direction of an investigation and make clear your position and seek a more appropriate focus to the case.
Deferred Prosecution Agreements came into force in February 2014. They aim to encourage companies to ‘self-report’ any wrong doing. Through entering an agreement with the SFO as to how wrongful behaviour will be acknowledged and rectified, the company aims to avoid criminal prosecution. This is potentially a helpful tool for companies, who recognise the risks associated with prosecution and are willing to take steps to prevent this. A company may agree to provide compensation, pay a financial penalty or put in place new procedures and practice.
Very careful consideration, assisted by astute, experienced fraud lawyers, is needed before raising the possibility of such an agreement with the SFO. Detailed assessment needs to be made of the risk of prosecution. Your lawyer will need to consider if there has in fact been wrong doing and if so, the possibility of a case being successfully presented.
Once approached in this way, assistance will be needed in presenting the company’s position and negotiating the terms of any agreement.
These are agreements between an authority and an individual under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA). In effect the agreement allows for a certain beneficial outcome in return for cooperation. They are not unique to the SFO. However, the powers conferred by the Act tend to have considerable application to the sort of cases investigated by the this authority.
There are a number of different SOCPA agreements available depending on the circumstances. But they all deal with the benefit that can be gained for an individual by cooperating with the authorities and admitting criminal wrong-doing. The current Director of the SFO, Lisa Osafksy, gave a speech in which she said, “…we in the UK have heard loud and clear from our colleagues in the United States how valuable co-operators can be in cracking white collar cases. We have different practices and different rules in Britain, and co-operators have, to date, been more widely used in narcotics or gang cases. Suffice to say, we are intently exploring this area in the white collar world.” So, it is clear then that cooperation could be looked upon favourably by the SFO in a way that could be to the advantage of the subject of its investigation.
An agreement may offer total immunity from prosecution in return for assistance given. It is also possible that an agreement could be reached entitling a person convicted of an offence to a reduction in their sentence in return for assistance.
There are multiple considerations when deciding whether to enter into a SOCPA agreement. Because criminal wrong doing must be admitted whether to enter into such an agreement will be a difficult decision. The process is complex and you will need a legal team that can carefully navigate this. Specialist legal advice in this situation is absolutely vital.
Defending a matter investigated by the SFO requires the assistance of lawyers highly experienced in dealing with all types of financial irregularity and complex fraud. Enormous knowledge and experience of each stage of the investigation and prosecution is a must. We at HJA are up to the task.
We know when to robustly challenge the SFO’s investigation and when to negotiate. An investigation by the SFO can operate differently from investigations by other authorities. It may involve different powers and procedures. Lawyers experienced in intervening in their investigations and influencing decision making must be engaged.
Represented an Executive in SFO prosecution into FH Bertiling – This related to corrupt payments in relation to the supply of freight forwarding services for a North Sea Oil exploration project known as Jasmine. Executive was acquitted.
Hodge Jones and Allen are able to provide robust, strong and reliable representation in relation to all investigations by the SFO. Our team in the Financial Crime and Regulatory Department have enormous experience in dealing with a full range of very complex and serious fraud matters as well as defending weighty and complex crime more generally. We are confident in intervening in investigations and positively influencing the outcome from a very early stage.
Our top ranking team have years of experience representing the innocent. We stand up to the prosecution who will always be represented by an experienced solicitor or barrister. We know how to fight and win cases.
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