Monday, 11 December 2017

A New Anti-Corruption Strategy Epitomises the Conservative Government’s Underhanded Approach

In the second post today, the focus will be on the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and its navigation of particularly choppy political waters. We have looked at the SFO on a number of occasions and in May this year we looked at how the Prime Minister was seemingly zeroing in on the SFO in the accumulation of what is an almost-relentless campaign to dismantle the agency. However, in news today, it appears that the new anti-corruption strategy developed by the Home Secretary – Amber Rudd – seeks to incorporate the SFO with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and not replace it, as had been suggested previously. However, what can the SFO make of this latest development?

We have discussed the SFO on a number of occasions, with most references being to victories that the agency has scored, particularly in reference to the large Deferred Prosecution Agreement arranged with Rolls-Royce. The SFO has a number of other ‘victories’ to its name (e shall not revisit the discussion of whether DPAs are victories or not here) but that had not stopped the Prime Minister renewing an old vendetta against the SFO which has seen her attempt to dissolve the SFO in favour of the NCA since her time in office as Home Secretary. Yet, the current Home Secretary provided some potential relief for the recently successful but still beleaguered agency, although that sense of success was rocked recently with a scalding assessment of the agency’s competency regarding its usage of inappropriate witnesses during a high-profile case. Today, Rudd announced plans for a new ‘National Economic Crime Centre’, which will see the Centre based within the NCA and give it the power to task the SFO with conducting investigations regarding ‘the worst cases of fraud, money laundering and corruption’. Not only is the Home Secretary concerned with tackling financial crime, but she is also concerned with rooting out corruption in key social areas like within policing, prisons, and the Border Force, apparently. Furthermore, Rudd stated that the new initiative was not just designed to counter large-scale financial crime, but also small-scale everyday financial crime like phishing scams etc. However, whilst the media report this in the form of either a. the SFO has been spared or b. the Government is now getting serious over corruption, a closer inspection into the wording used by Rudd suggest something much more sinister.

The Prime Minister has plenty on her plate at the moment, and wading into a public battle with an agency that has scored some impressive ‘wins’ recently is not only bad politics, but could potentially see the barometer swing away from her party in upcoming elections. Yet, whilst this author has many opinions of Theresa May, it is clear that her doggedness could never be underestimated, so with that in mind it is worth taking Rudd’s proclamation today with great care. Rudd stated that the NCA will have the power to task the SFO with investigating serious fraud, but in reality it already does this – it is part-and-parcel of its purpose. Whilst onlookers have been quick to declare that ‘it is reassuring that the Government appears to have abandoned its earlier plans to abolish the SFO’, in reality the Government have taken the first step to incorporating the SFO into the NCA, just as May had promised she would. However, by repackaging the move in the way that Rudd did today, in line with her unwavering allegiance to the Prime Minister, Theresa May has set the plan in motion and received the support of those that were so adamantly against her when she pledged to do this very same thing before the election. Depending on what media outlet one reads, if at all, one could be forgiven for falling into the trap of believing that she and her Government are incompetent and confused, when in fact they are anything but.

Keywords – Serious Fraud Office, National Crime Agency, Corruption, Politics, Theresa May, @finregmatters

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