Thursday, 17 March 2016

The acerbic commentator, the SFO and lingering investigations

The Serious Fraud Office took a bit of pasting yesterday in the British business press following it's move to close its criminal investigation into the $5 trillion-a-day global currency markets after two years of investigation.

Among the business commentariat, Alistair Osborne - a former boss and colleague during my time at The Daily Telegraph but now at the The Times - was being particularly acerbic towards the SFO, dubbing it the "seriously flawed office". Here is a link to Alistair's caustic column, which also raises some important points:

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/columnists/alistairosborne/article4714091.ece

However, one issue that does appear to have been overlooked over is: what's likely to happen to all the other criminal cases that the SFO has been investigating for an even longer period of time than the forex probe?

A quick look at the SFO website shows it's still carrying out criminal investigations - including one into FTSE 100-listed engineering giant Rolls Royce - that started several years ago.

According to the SFO's website, the regulator announced in December 2013 the investigation into Rolls-Royce but the engineering group is still "under investigation". So, almost three years after the the SFO's investigation began there is still no conclusion.

Does the fact that there are several investigations that have been going on for longer than the forex probe imply the SFO have got enough evidence for a criminal conviction?

Or, is the SFO just prolonging the inevitable and along with it another ton of embarrassing negative publicity from the likes of Alistair Osborne?

If it's the case of the latter, then readers might understand why directors at businesses "under investigation" and government departments get extremely frustrated with the SFO as the mere association of an investigation is extremely damaging to a company, its executives and their reputations.

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