Legal experts are dismayed over “bizarre” Conservative manifesto plans to end the independence of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), warning it could severely hamper efforts to fight financial crime and corruption. The manifesto, published yesterday, vowed to incorporate the SFO into the National Crime Agency (NCA) should the Conservative Party be re-elected on June 8.
According to the party, the move would “strengthen Britain’s response to white collar crime” by improving intelligence sharing and bolstering the investigation of serious fraud and money laundering. But the pledge has sparked outcry from financial crime lawyers, who said the fundamentally different nature of the two organisations will inevitably create barriers to fighting illicit activity.
“The decision to include this as part of the manifesto is bizarre,” said Peter Binning, a founding partner of Corker Binning and a former SFO prosecutor. “What do the Tory party think they are doing?”
Binning said the combined investigation and prosecution capability within a single organisation has been hugely advantageous to the SFO, yet this would be lost if it became a department within a purely investigative agency.
“I have seen nobody with any experience of the prosecution or defence of serious fraud and corruption who has spoken in favour of this policy,” he said.
“It seems to amount to opening up the electorate to hugely increased risk of fraud such as has not been seen for 30 years, as well as downgrading this country internationally as a beacon of good practice in this field.”
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