The SFO recently asked the Treasury for £21 million to continue its current investigations
A row has erupted between the Serious Fraud Office and one of London’s leading law firms over figures said to show that the agency ignored tip-offs because of budget cuts.
The SFO accused Pinsent Masons yesterday of “deliberately” misinterpreting data showing that while the number of whistleblowing reports to the agency had risen last year by 324 to 2,832, only 16 new investigations had been opened.
A spokeswoman said: “As we have repeatedly pointed out to Pinsent Masons’ PR firm, not all frauds fall within the SFO’s very specific remit.
“If the information provided is not for us, we pass it on to other relevant law enforcement agencies and regulators. To suggest the SFO has not been able to investigate is deliberately to misinterpret this data.
“It is also wrong to suggest that the SFO’s budget impacts its ability to pursue cases. The SFO will never refuse to take on an investigation on grounds of cost, as demonstrated by its current caseload.”
Pinsent Masons said that the figures, derived from a Freedom of Information request, highlighted the lack of funding for the SFO, which was forced last month to request £21 million on top of its ordinary budget.
“The idea that available budget does not impact outcomes does not hold up to much scrutiny,” Barry Vitou, head of global corporate crime at the law firm, said.
“With a whistleblower reporting system in place but not enough money, the SFO will be forced to continue to prioritise only the cases it considers most important, leaving others to fall by the wayside.”
The contract of David Green, the director of the SFO, is up for renewal in April and most observers expect the former barrister to have his four-year term extended, despite a series of setbacks.
Last month, six former brokers accused of helping Tom Hayes, the jailed former UBS and Citigroup trader, to rig Libor were found not guilty. The court defeat marked a significant hit for Mr Green, who has spent tens of millions of pounds and pinned much of the SFO’s credibility on successfully prosecuting individuals alleged to have been involved in the manipulation of borrowing rates. A trial of six Barclays bankers accused of involvement in Libor-rigging was to begin in the next two weeks, but has been delayed until April after the lender provided new information to the agency.