Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Serious Fraud Office

  Thank you for your letter of 11 December 2000. I attach, as requested, a Memorandum, giving the details you asked for regarding the role played by the SFO in investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption. You will note that we have had no experience of prosecuting cases in England and Wales involving corruption in developing countries, which is hardly surprising, as the statutes presently in force which enshrine the law relating to corruption do not have extraterritorial effect. We have, on the other hand, some experience of investigating cases on behalf of developing countries in which corruption allegations are made, under mutual legal assistance arrangements. The memorandum gives more information about our powers to assist overseas countries in this way. Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you require further details or something is not clear.

Rosalind Wright

Director, The Serious Fraud Office


  To the best of my knowledge, we have not dealt with any corruption cases from developing countries, as domestic investigations ie with a view to bringing a prosecution in the UK. I do not think that our records make it possible to research cases that have been referred to us for vetting and which have been turned down and any records that exist would not necessarily identify cases by country of origin. However, from memory, we have rejected one major case recently, that was referred to us by the World Bank, which demonstrated most, if not all, of the points that we make below.

  The current debate about tackling international corruption ranges through many different fora and the SFO has played an active part. We consistently make the point that corruption is a particularly difficult offence to investigate and prosecute. Among the points that we make are:

  1.  That the sums involved may be huge and the harmful consequences extremely grave. However, if the manner in which the offence was committed does not involve a fraud, the SFO will have no remit. Some corruption can be so blatant, particularly if it is committed in a jurisdiction where corruption is endemic, that it cannot be said to involve a serious or complex fraud.

  2.  However, we find that most large cases of corruption do involve an element of fraud, for example, a paper trail will have been created, to conceal the source and destination of the bribe monies and if this can properly be described as complex, then we would be able to consider investigating the offence.

  3.  The Committee will be aware that jurisdiction is a central feature of the current debate. In our view it is important to realise that extending jurisdiction, so that trials may take place within the UK for offences of corruption largely committed abroad, will not necessarily increase the number of cases that are prosecuted. This is because the central problem with investigating and prosecuting this type of crime is producing witnesses and other evidence that is truthful and completely reliable. By its nature, a corruption prosecution often involves calling witnesses who are by no means untarnished. Furthermore the offence has usually involved the creation of false documents and the destruction of other vital evidence. If this has taken place in another jurisdiction, the wholehearted support of the authorities there is vital, if we stand any chance of mounting a credible prosecution in the UK. The problem is exacerbated but by no means confined to the impossibility of compelling frightened and or compromised witnesses to attend court in the UK to give evidence.

  4.  We think that it is important to emphasise that the SFO and to the best of our knowledge the UK generally, have no difficulty at all in providing legal assistance to any foreign jurisdiction that mounts an internal investigation, with a view to prosecuting themselves. The committee will know that this assistance is capable of extending to extraditing our own nationals. It seems to us that the principle that a defendant should expect to stand trial before the courts of the country where he has committed the offence is important. If it can be seen to be enforced it is also capable of acting as a significant deterrent. Furthermore and this is a vital point, it makes it far more likely that all those implicated in the offence can stand trial together, both the offeror and acceptor of the bribe and those who have conspired to commit and aided and abetted the offence. There is a strong likelihood that extra territorial trials within the UK would take place in the absence of co- defendants. This is an overwhelming advantage to the defence and in this type of case, an almost insuperable difficulty for the prosecution.

  5.  The SFO has given critical support to the investigations of foreign authorities in several high profile cases that involve corruption. We have used our compulsory powers to obtain documents and to interview witnesses. We have a Mutual Legal Assistance Unit that is devoted to assisting foreign authorities. We will provide them with advice on how to structure and draft their requests, before the are submitted to the UKCA at the Home Office. We will invite foreign judges and investigators to come to the UK, to discuss investigations, examine evidence and on occasions, to conduct interviews alongside our own investigators. We are currently assisting the Nigerian, Indian, South African, Zambian, Ukrainain and Malawian authorities with major investigations. We also encourage delegations from other jurisdictions to visit us. Within the last year, we have hosted visits from prosecutors, judges and other officials from many other jurisdictions, including China, Russia, Serbia, Georgia and Kenya.

Serious Fraud Office

January 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 5 April 2001