The Attorney General today announced that Lisa Osofsky will be the new Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), taking over from David Green CB QC, who left the role in April 2018 after six years at the helm. Mark Thompson (the SFO’s current Chief Operating Officer) is filling the role on an interim basis before Ms Osofsky takes up the position full time on 3 September 2018.
Osofsky is currently a Managing Director, EMEA Regional Leader and EMEA Head of Investigations of Exiger, a global compliance consultancy firm. Osofsky is a qualified English barrister, US attorney, former Deputy General Counsel and Ethics Officer of the FBI, and the former Money Laundering Reporting Officer and Executive Director of Goldman Sachs. As such, she brings a wealth of public and private sector experience from both sides of the Atlantic.
The appointment of Lisa Osofsky was certainly not expected by the white collar crime community in London, but the wealth and breadth of her experience appear to make her a good fit for the role. Observers will be especially keen to see how her background shapes the SFO’s approach to its role and relations between the SFO and the US authorities in the years to come. Given her US law enforcement background, it will also be interesting to see if the new Director continues David Green’s firm stance on the prosecutorial role of the SFO and to self reporting and Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs).
Osofsky is on record as supporting plans to subsume the SFO into the UK National Crime Agency, a proposal that has been criticised by some, but welcomed by others. It will be especially interesting to see whether that is a view Osofsky maintains once she takes up the role of Director.
Ms Osofsky joins an office very different to that inherited by David Green from his predecessor, Richard Alderman. By 2012, while having achieved some success in its early years, the SFO was facing a barrage of criticism on several fronts. Critics had no shortage of ammunition: the end of the Alderman era and the early stages of David Green’s tenure was littered with controversy, criticism and setbacks. Such incidents led many to question whether the organisation had a viable future as David Green took the reins.
However, under David Green, the SFO seems to have (slowly) started to turn a corner. If nothing else, there has been a definite and deliberate recalibration of its role. It now benefits from a significantly enhanced enforcement arsenal: the UK Bribery Act, the introduction of DPAs, new sentencing guidelines for corporate offenders and the introduction of the new corporate tax offence in 2017 have given the SFO greater legal powers than ever before to deal with corporate offending. The SFO now also has access to “blockbuster” funding from the Treasury for larger cases and, only very recently, it was announced that its budget for the next financial year will be increased from £34.3 million to £52.7 million. This additional funding will provide a much needed boost to the office’s ability to perform its role and perhaps suggests that the future of the office is more secure than previously thought.
However, David Green’s tenure has not all been plain sailing. There have been criticisms from some quarters of the introduction of DPAs, and contested convictions of large corporations for economic crime remain noticeable by their absence. Question marks also remain over the SFO’s approach to privilege, which will hopefully be resolved (at least to some extent) by the Court of Appeal in July, when it considers the appeal in the ENRC matter. There are also concerns lingering over the length of time the SFO takes to investigate matters. For example, the investigation into G4S and Serco’s electronic monitoring contracts is now in its fifth year, while the investigation into ENRC is almost in its sixth year. Neither of these matters appear to have progressed beyond the investigation stage.
On balance, the history books are likely to reflect that David Green leaves the SFO in a far better place than he found it, but there is still much work to do. As for Lisa Osofsky, it is difficult to predict at this stage if or how the SFO will change under her leadership. All eyes will be on her first few public speeches for a sense of the direction of travel. However, given the high number of complex SFO investigations currently underway, impending trials and ongoing challenges to the SFO’s procedures, there is no doubt that the new Director will face a full inbox on her first day in the office.