In remarks made on 3 April at the Royal United Services Institute in London, Serious Fraud Office Director Lisa Osofsky discussed the agency’s recent efforts and what she has learned on the job so far.

On the topic of establishing law enforcement partnerships to better trace and detect serious economic crimes, Osofsky noted that law enforcement needs to cooperate more effectively across jurisdictions and that technological solutions are needed to address technological hurdles.

Other “significant barriers to cooperation,” she said, are working with those in some countries who falsely identify themselves as law enforcement officers. “It can lead to investigations being jeopardized, witnesses facing threats or even human rights violations,” she said. “In entirely trustworthy jurisdictions, there are times when issues like sovereignty and primacy pose real stumbling blocks. Even after these have been overcome, differences in the rules of engagement, national law and procedure can hinder or limit how we cooperate—if we let them.”

She also spoke about the importance of understanding the differences embedded in different nations’ legal systems—particularly differences in how countries’ laws protect their citizens. Some of these include differences in:

  • Standards that must be met to obtain evidence;
  • How information must be disclosed to defendants before trial;
  • How witness and suspect interviews must be conducted;
  • The reaches and recognition of corporate criminal liability;
  • Whether and how criminal dispositions can be negotiated; and
  • Privacy laws.

“The SFO is working to overcome these barriers,” Osofsky said. “We are building relationships with our colleagues in places from Argentina to Lithuania to Australia.”

“Strong international relationships have always been critical to the SFO,” Osofsky added. “Connectivity across the law enforcement community is vital for sharing information, particularly as you never know where an investigation might lead.”

Private-sector involvement

In her remarks, Osofsky also stressed the importance of the assistance and cooperation of the private sector. “I know from my previous experience in the private sector how much time, effort, and resource financial institutions and companies spend on ensuring compliance with money laundering regulations; defending themselves against fraud; and making sure they are not caught by the failure to prevent bribery or tax evasion,” Osofsky said.

“They have great experience, advanced analytical tools, and vast quantities of data that they should be willing, indeed eager, to share with law enforcement,” she added. “They may have regulatory requirements that force them to alert authorities to what they find, and they may be part of a group like the JMLIT [Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce] that is committed to sharing.”

When a company does detect fraud or corruption, “I would hope that that company would be brave enough to report that to the authorities as soon as possible,” she said. While companies have a duty to their shareholders to ensure allegations or suspicions are investigated, assessed, and verified, they must also take certain steps, such as preserving vital evidence, if they want all this hard work to count as cooperation, Osofsky said.

“I fully support and value the right of privilege,” Osofsky added. “But companies can waive that privilege if they wish to cooperate with the Serious Fraud Office.”

She noted that the SFO will soon be issuing guidance for corporates and their legal advisers to provide them with added transparency about what they might expect if they decide to self-report fraud or corruption. Osofsky’s full speech can be viewed in its entirety here.