SFO Investigations & Prosecutions
No one caught up in an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) wouldn’t 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. They only deal with the most complex and serious criminal. The SFO is concerned with wrong doing where there’s 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 looks different to those conducted by other prosecuting authorities. It’s important you seek expert legal advice to guide you through the process.
Our Financial Crime & Regulatory team has been ranked in the Chambers & Partners 2023 legal directory. The team was described as “very friendly and professional” and “effective in the financial crime area.”
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Section 2 notice interviews
Usually, if a person is invited for an interview in relation to a criminal investigation, they’re not obliged to answer questions. For interviews led 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’re required to attend such an interview and you don’t cooperate, you could be committing an offence punishable by imprisonment. In addition, if you provide false or misleading information during such an interview this could also be an offence punishable by imprisonment.
If you’re asked to attend an SFO interview, you will likely feel concerned. But it’s important to understand that these interviews are conducted at an early stage of an investigation. They provide an opportunity to influence the tone and direction of an investigation, and make clear your position and seek a more appropriate focus to the case.
"MY SOLICITOR [RAJ] ENSURED THAT EVERY STEP WAS TAKEN FOR A SUCCESSFUL RESULT IN MY CASE."
Deferred Prosecution Agreements
Deferred Prosecution Agreements came into force in February 2014. They encourage companies to ‘self-report’ any wrongdoing.
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 a helpful tool for companies, who recognise the risks associated with prosecution and are willing to take steps to prevent this. A company could agree to provide compensation, pay a financial penalty or put in place new procedures and practice.
Very careful consideration, assisted by sharp, 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 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). The agreement allows for a beneficial outcome in return for cooperation. They’re not unique to the SFO.
There are various 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, comments, “…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’s clear, cooperation is looked upon favourably by the SFO, 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’s 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 when entering into such an agreement, this will be a difficult decision. Due to the complexity of the process, you will need a legal team that can carefully navigate this. Specialist legal advice in this situation is absolutely vital.
Why choose Hodge Jones & Allen?
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. That’s why you need HJA.
We know when to 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.
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Experts in complex & serious fraud cases
We 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 complex and serious fraud matters, as well as defending weighty and complex crime more generally. We’re confident in intervening in investigations and positively influencing the outcome from an early stage.
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Featured client case
Represented an Executive in SFO prosecution into FH Bertling. This related to corrupt payments in relation to the supply of freight forwarding services for a North Sea Oil exploration project known as Jasmine. The executive was acquitted.