Monday, December 21, 2009

The Investigative Agency That Prefers Not to Investigate

The Serious Fraud Office ("SFO") in the United Kingdom is similar to the U.S. DOJ.

According to the SFO's website (here), it "investigates fraud and corruption." Elsewhere on the website (here) it notes that the SFO is the "lead agency" in the U.K. "for investigating and prosecuting cases of domestic and overseas corruption." Elsewhere on the website (here) is a specific page as to how the SFO "investigates and prosecutes" and the page notes that a thorough investigation "often includes examining vast quantities of documents which have often been left in a deliberately obscure and fragmented form."

All sounds rather intense from an investigative standpoint.

Problem is, the SFO recently stated that it would prefer not to investigate bribery and corruption cases!

As discussed elsewhere (see here), the SFO recently made public additional guidance as to its July 2009 memo titled "Approach of the Serious Fraud Office to Dealing with Overseas Corruption." (See here for my prior post on this memo).

While it is commendable for a government agency to provide more guidance to those subject to a law, the following sentence in the SFO letter (see here) caused me to pause (let alone read multiple times):

"Our very strong preference is that all investigative work should be carried out by the professional advisers [of the company disclosing a potential issue] and that it is not necessary for the SFO to conduct any investigation itself."

Have we seriously come to the point (on both sides of the Atlantic) where the government agencies tasked with investigating and prosecuting bribery and corruption cases no longer view it as their responsibility to investigate the factual circumstances supporting the charges?

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