Attempts by the Serious Fraud Office to freeze the assets of fraudsters – through Restraint Orders – have halved from eight to four in the past year, says Pinsent Masons, the international law firm.
Restraint Orders allow the SFO to confiscate assets suspected to be the result of fraud. Issuing these orders quickly is critical in preventing fraudsters from dissipating these assets before victims have a chance to recover them. The SFO has not issued a Restraint Order within two months of opening and investigation in any of the past three years.
Pinsent Masons says that the fall in these asset freezing orders may be linked to the SFO’s focus on high-profile so-called ‘blockbuster’ cases that have a public policy interest, rather than purely a large financial value. The SFO has dealt with several such high-profile cases against FTSE 100 companies in recent years (including bribery cases), but this may be coming at the expense of frauds involving much greater losses to businesses and individuals.
Figures also show the number of asset freezing orders the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has obtained has flatlined, going from 1,176 in 2016/17 to 1,178 in 2017/18. Pinsent Masons says that businesses will be keen to get confirmation from the CPS that it is picking up high-value fraud cases that do not fit the SFO’s current approach.
Pinsent Masons’ partner Alan Sheeley, Head of the firm’s Civil Fraud and Asset Recovery team, comments: “The SFO is the UK’s elite fraud enforcement agency, and businesses are keen to see it focus on cases where businesses have lost significant amounts of money – not just a select few cases that are important from a public policy standpoint.”
“That’s especially important as there is no guarantee that other agencies are going to step in and do that work.”
“Restraint orders are a vital tool to help victims of fraud recover stolen assets. It is worrying to see the SFO doing less of this critical work.”