What we do
The SFO is a specialist prosecuting authority tackling top level serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption.
We are part of the UK criminal justice system covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not Scotland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.
We take on a small number of large economic crime cases. The Director may investigate any suspected offence which appears to him on reasonable grounds to involve serious or complex fraud, bribery or corruption.
In considering whether to authorise an investigation the Director will take into account the actual or intended harm that may be caused to:
- the public, or
- the reputation and integrity of the UK as an international financial centre, or
- the economy and prosperity of the UK
and whether the complexity and nature of the suspected offence warrants the application of the SFO’s specialist skills, powers and capabilities to investigate and prosecute.
We pursue criminals for the financial benefit they have made from their crimes and assist overseas jurisdictions with their investigations into serious and complex fraud, bribery and corruption cases.
We are unusual in the UK in that we both investigate and prosecute our cases. We were set up this way because these our cases are complicated and lawyers and investigators need to work together from the beginning.
The SFO was created and given its powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1987 and was established in 1988. Read more about our history and powers here.
The SFO is superintended by the Attorney General in accordance with the framework agreement which sets out the relationship between the Attorney and the Law Officers’ Departments.
Nick Ephgrave QPM is the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), as of 25 September 2023
We have a full time equivalent of around 450 permanent Civil Service staff.
Our staff includes investigators, lawyers, forensic accountants, analysts, digital forensics experts and a variety of other professionals in specialist and support roles.
Stages of a case
Intelligence gathering or “pre-investigation” stage
The SFO receives information on possible criminal activity from a variety of sources, including whistleblowers, victims, other law enforcement agencies, the media, corporations themselves (“self reports”), and those in competition with them. This information is analysed and the potential for the alleged activity to become the subject of a criminal investigation is assessed by our Intelligence Unit, a team of intelligence operatives, lawyers, accredited financial intelligence officers, analysts and investigators.
The Intelligence Unit also undertakes its own research and proactively develops information. The unit has unique pre-investigation powers available under Section 2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 that are used to help determine whether to commence an investigation where it appears bribery and corruption may have taken place.
The Director can accept a case for criminal investigation if, in his judgment, it meets his Statement of Principle and if he considers there are reasonable grounds to suspect serious or complex fraud.
Investigation and prosecution
Once a case is accepted by the Director, investigators and lawyers work together from the start. This way of working is known in the UK as the Roskill model and is an exception to the normal practice in this country, in which crime is generally investigated by a police force and the evidence passed to the CPS to decide whether to prosecute. The SFO was set up differently because our cases need strong cooperation and management from both lawyers and investigators all the way through, to make sure that the lines of investigation are the best ones to uncover criminal activity, and eventually prove it in court.
Deferred Prosecution Agreements
If the investigation results in enough evidence to a support a realistic prospect of conviction, and if a prosecution is considered to be in the public interest, charges will be normally be brought. Alternatively the Director of the SFO may consider inviting a company to enter negotiations for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. The SFO’s first DPA was with Standard Bank in 2015. Subsequent DPAs were agreed with Sarclad Ltd in 2016 and with Rolls-Royce and Tesco in 2017. In 2019, DPAs were agreed with Serco Geografix Ltd and Güralp Systems Ltd. In 2020, a DPAs were agreed with Airbus SE, G4S Care & Justice Services (UK) Ltd and Airline Services Ltd. In 2021, a DPA was agreed with Amec Foster Wheeler Energy Limited and with two companies for Bribery Act offences.
If we decide to prosecute the alleged criminals, there will often be a court trial. More information on the outcomes of our trials can be found here.
Proceeds of Crime
In addition to investigating and prosecuting criminal cases, the SFO aims to recover the proceeds of crime so that fraudsters do not benefit from their offending and victims can be compensated wherever possible. Mainly using the powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Further information on this can be found in our recent Annual Report and Accounts here.
Mutual legal assistance (MLA) is a form of cooperation between States for obtaining assistance in the investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and identifying and recovering the proceeds of crime. Requests for mutual legal assistance are usually made by judges and prosecutors in one jurisdiction and executed by executing authorities in the jurisdiction where the evidence is located. We have a team dedicated to executing MLA requests from of overseas jurisdictions to assist them their investigations, prosecutions and asset recovery work and to contribute to the fight against international criminality.
Where to send requests for evidence
The United Kingdom Central Authority (‘UKCA’) is part of the Home Office and deals with all MLA requests in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (except tax and fiscal customs matters). More details can be found on the UKCA website. If the matter is accepted by the UKCA and is one for the SFO, the UKCA will refer it to our International Assistance team for action.