Legal Business Blogs

Regulatory: Embattled SFO requests £19m emergency funding for ‘blockbuster’ litigation

The Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO’s) somewhat fraught efforts to redefine itself by focusing on higher profile, higher risk complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases yesterday (30 January) led the organisation to ask the Government for emergency funding of £19m.

The request for ‘blockbuster funding’ is to help bankroll large international investigations including Libor, Barclays Qatar and Rolls Royce and in the defence of a multi-million pound damages claim brought by the Tchenguiz brothers.

The request comes after the body last year came under scrutiny after its annual report showed it spent more money on trials, recovered less and won fewer of them.

The average cost of cases (excluding staff) amounted to £839,000; a 25% increase on the previous year’s figure of £669,000. Just 12 trials took place compared with 19 the year before and 20 defendants were tried compared with 54 in 2012, of which 14 (70%) were convicted. However, the average sentence length increased to 71.3 months from 50.6 in 2012.

The request for emergency funding comes after the department’s budget fell by 60% from £52.8m in 2008/09 to £31.7m in 2013/14, with this figure expected to drop further in 2015 as part of the Government’s cost cutting programme.

Solicitor general Oliver Heald yesterday said that pending parliamentary approval of the £19m, the Treasury will give the SFO an emergency cash advance of £11m.

In July it emerged that the SFO was looking to recruit an additional 10 junior barristers to join the team involved in the defence of the multi-million damages claims brought by the Tchenguiz brothers.

In 2012 the property tycoons sued the SFO for more than £200m after the agency made serious mistakes in its investigation of their role in the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing, of which they were executives.

Slaughter and May is managing the disclosure exercise and a witness statement filed last July by Slaughter’s dispute resolution partner Jonathan Cotton as part of the pre-trial hearings revealed that the SFO had spent £118,000 up to 30 April on the disclosure review.

A spokesperson for the SFO said: ‘This funding is ‘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 ie Libor, Barclays Qatar and the Rolls Royce investigation; costs in connection with Tchenguiz litigation and a number of other casework costs.’