Jessica de Graziaâs official report last summer on the Serious Fraud Office was mortifying, painting a picture of gross incompetence in an organisation designed to pierce the most sophisticated corporate frauds. 300 lawyers, accountants and investigators, presumed to be the finest available, and funded to the tune of Â£42 million last year, were revealed to be âparalysed by perceived cronyism, paranoia and a lack of firm leadership and directionâ.
A financial investigator remarked: âThe SFO has a system where the mediocre flourish.â
Just four days ago it was reported that the SFO was delaying the transmission of information to the United States about Bernard Madoffâs London-based operation, to officials involved in wrapping up the defunct empire of the disgraced investment adviser, court records yesterday.
Two days ago they were involved in an unseemly exchange with the Portuguese authorities, from whom they had demanded sight of the Bank Accounts of JosÃ© SÃ³crates, the Portuguese Prime MInister, in connection with the âFreeportâ case â a request which was met with hollow laughter in Portugal, since the English Home Office had blocked requests for access to the credit card statements of Gerry McCann!
The âtrack recordâ of the SFO has been embarrassing.
2003 â Andrew Regan acquitted of theft and bribery involving the Coop after six years and three trials. Estimated cost: Â£6.3m
1996 â The SFOâs pursuit of Kevin and Ian Maxwell on fraud charges ends in failure. Estimated cost: Â£20m-Â£30m
1994 â George Walker, the boxer turned businessman, cleared of all charges after 18-week trial. Estimated cost: Â£40m
1992 â Court of Appeal overturns SFO convictions of four directors of Blue Arrow describing the 12-month trial as a âcostly disasterâ. Estimated cost: Â£40m
This is reminiscent of the Quinquennial Review of The Public Trust Office, an organisation charged with controlling the finances of the most vulnerable people in the country â a similar catalogue of incompetence, inefficiency and demoralisation was uncovered there.
The two departments have one outstanding factor in common â a culture of excessive secrecy concerning their actual work output.
However there is a significant difference in the outcome of their reviews â staff in the old Public Trust Office would be astounded to learn of the redundancy pay offs on offer at the SFO â up to Â£240,000 lump sum on top of a Â£22,000 pension. Some of the Public Trust Office staff counted themselves lucky to âhitch a lift downwardsâ to a lowly clerks position in the Immigration Office.
How fortunate those SFO staff are to be made redundant in the midst of a recession presided over by a Labour government that is determined to reward the feckless, support the inadequate, and bleed the hard working to pay for itâ¦.