The SFO is attempting to redefine itself by focussing only on high profile and complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases.
This however comes at a cost and has now seen (February 2014) the agency ask for emergency funding of £19m from the Government. This though comes at a time when the SFO is under scrutiny, having last year spent more money on trials but been successful in fewer of them, and recovered less tainted money than in previous years.
The SFO’s budget has been cut from £52m in 2008 to £32m for 2013/14. This figure is expected to drop further in 2015 as part of the Governments cost cutting programme. “The scale and pace of budget cuts inflicted on the SFO will make prosecuting its caseload impossible,” said Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow Attorney-General.
The request for funding comes as the SFO seeks to meet an urgent cash requirement on existing cases and also to settle material liabilities. It's expected that the Treasury will give the SFO an emergency cash advance of £11m.
The SFO said the £19m included “blockbuster” funding “for the course of our investigation and prosecution work in the remainder of this financial year, this includes three large, resource intensive cases, i.e. Libor, Barclays Qatar and the Rolls-Royce investigation, costs in connection with Tchenguiz litigation; and a number of other casework costs”.
The SFO can request “blockbuster” funds to pursue complex cases where the public interest justifies this, and has secured £5 million in the last 12 months. Of this £3.5 million has gone towards its investigation into the alleged LIBOR fixing, but a further £1.5 million has been needed to defend proceedings brought against the SFDO following the abortive Tchenguiz investigation.
What the need for the further funds now applied for suggests is that the SFO is finally gearing up to flex its prosecutorial muscles.
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