April 10, 2018 / 9:45 AM / 9 days ago

New head of UK Serious Fraud Office selected

LONDON (Reuters) - A new director of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been selected and is expected to take up the position later this year, the government’s chief legal adviser said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is displayed in an unmarked Serious Fraud Office vehicle parked outside a building, in Mayfair, central London March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

The announcement comes 10 days before SFO head David Green ends a six-year stint at the top of the investigator and prosecutor, whose criminal cases include investigations into major companies such as Barclays (BARC.L), GSK (GSK.L), Airbus (AIR.PA) and Rolls-Royce (RR.L).

The ruling Conservative Party had pledged last May to scrap the agency and fold it into the broader National Crime Agency. But that plan drew fierce criticism from lawyers and anti-corruption groups and was dropped from the party’s two-year policy program one month later.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright, who oversees the SFO, said in a statement that SFO chief operating officer Mark Thompson would become interim director while the selected candidate completed the final stages of the appointment process and managed an exit from their current job.

The British government only began the lengthy process in December of hunting for a replacement for Green, who has said he will be stepping down “just after lunch” on April 20.

Having fended off the ruling party’s move to end its independence, the SFO and government have begun talks about how it is funded and whether its core annual budget of roughly 35 million pounds ($50 million) needs to be increased, Green has told Reuters.

It also said on Tuesday that it was bringing on board new artificial intelligence technology, by enterprise information management company Open Text, to slash the hefty costs of trawling through millions of documents in investigations.

SFO’s chief technology officer Ben Denison said the amount of data handled by the digital forensics team has quadrupled in the last year. One case has generated over 50 million documents and another looks set to generate roughly 80 million, he said.

The SFO has often been criticized by lawmakers over its efforts to bring companies and senior individuals to book.

But during Green’s tenure, the agency has been praised by politicians for securing deferred prosecution agreements with Rolls-Royce and Tesco, yielding combined fines of around 630 million pounds, and filing unprecedented criminal charges against Barclays and former senior executives over alleged wrongdoing in the credit crisis era.

In its high-profile investigations into benchmark interest rate rigging, six traders have been convicted and eight acquitted. Five more are standing trial this week - one in absentia.

Asked what his plans are after he steps down, Green, a lawyer, told Reuters in a recent interview: “I shall take a few months off and hawk myself around the bazaars of legal London and see if I can muster a flicker of interest.”

($1 = 0.7055 pounds)

    Additional reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Hugh Lawson

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