Brian Sims

HMCPSI praises SFO’s “effective and proactive” proceeds of crime recovery

THE SERIOUS Fraud Office (SFO) has been praised by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) for its work on recovering the proceeds of crime, with cases “handled proactively and efficiently” by “dedicated and skilled” members of staff.

The SFO’s Proceeds of Crime and International Assistance Division fights to trace and seize money and other assets from criminals, while always striving to ensure that the latter cannot rest on their ill-gotten gains.

A new report produced by HMCPSI, the statutory body which inspects prosecution services to improve processes, has duly assessed the SFO’s and Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) approaches towards recovering the proceeds of crime. The document highlights the effectiveness of both the SFO and the CPS in identifying and confiscating criminal assets.

Commenting on the report, HMCPSI Chief Inspector Andrew Cayley CMG QC said: “The work that the CPS and the SFO Proceeds of Crime teams do to recover the illicit gains of criminal conduct is a vital element of the criminal justice system. This joint inspection of both organisations shows that cases are handled proactively and efficiently by dedicated and skilled staff.”

In particular, the inspectors picked out the SFO’s Roskill Model – whereby financial investigators, case progression officers, lawyers and case controllers work side-by-side – as being a clear strength, while also praising the input of expert members of the proceeds of crime team in criminal investigations.

Fighting complex financial crime

Lisa Osofsky, director of the SFO, observed: “Our mission at the SFO is to fight complex financial crime, deliver justice for victims and protect the UK’s reputation as a safe place in which to do business. We achieve this by prosecuting criminals, but also by making sure that there’s no safe haven for their illicit gains, either here in the UK or abroad. This work starts at the beginning of each criminal investigation.”

Osofsky is pleased that the inspectors have highlighted the skill and dedication of the team at the SFO. “We will work with partners at the CPS to take their helpful suggestions into consideration.”

Also speaking about the report, Adrian Foster (Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS Proceeds of Crime Division) stated: “We continue to help deliver justice at a difficult time and within the constraints placed upon the entire criminal justice system. Indeed, we are working as hard as ever on confiscation cases.”

In 2020-2021, the SFO’s Proceeds of Crime team confiscated £5.7 million worth of illicit assets. This included the seizure of £500,000 worth of gold, silver and diamond-encrusted jewellery associated with career criminal Nisar Afzal and securing increases in the confiscation amounts of convicted fraudsters, thereby ensuring they continue to pay for their crimes.

The SFO also secured £1.2 million from a luxury West London apartment which it showed to have been partly purchased with the corrupt funds of its owner’s criminal conduct in Brazil.

Number of convictions

The SFO fights complex financial crime, delivers justice for victims and protects the UK public (and the country at large) from economic harm. The organisation investigates and prosecutes the most serious or complex cases of fraud, bribery and corruption. It also recovers the proceeds of crime worldwide and assists international partners with their investigations, for which the Proceeds of Crime and International Assistance Division assumes responsibility.

Under Lisa Osofsky’s direction, the SFO has secured convictions against 21 individuals and companies, recovered over £1 billion of illicit gains and secured eight agreements with companies including Serco, G4S and Airbus, compelling them to pay penalties and also reform in order to prevent future law-breaking.

ONS quarterly figures

Josh Gunnell, head of fraud and ID pre-sales at TransUnion in the UK, has commented on the latest fraud figures issued by the Office for National Statistics.

“The latest quarterly figures from the Office for National Statistics confirm the extent to which fraudsters have taken advantage of the pandemic, showing a 24% increase for the year ending March 2021, when comparing pre-pandemic, with the year ending March 2019. Retail fraud and advanced fee fraud – which would include the delivery service scams that have been proliferating – unsurprisingly played a significant part in this. In fact, our recent Consumer Pulse study which has been tracking the impact of the pandemic showed that more than one-in-three consumers say they have been targeted in a digital fraud attempt related to COVID-19, rising to one-in-two for Generation Z. Phishing scams, reported by 39% of targeted consumers, remain the most common form.”

Gunnell added: “Similarly, Action Fraud reported a rise of 28% in fraud offences to March 2021 when compared with the previous year. This included a dramatic increase in online shopping and auction fraud, whereby people are being misled about buying or selling in an online marketplace. Such fraud is up by 57%. Despite the lockdown restrictions now easing, the growth in online transactions is here to stay. That being so, businesses must adapt to the changes and update their fraud prevention strategies where and when necessary.”

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