New director Lisa Osofsky’s cross-border and corporate experience may lead the SFO in a fresh direction.

The announcement that Lisa Osofsky has been appointed as Director of the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) likely signals new strategic directions for the agency. For the past six years, the SFO has been led by David Green QC, who stepped down from his position in April. In this blog post, Latham partner and former Head of the Fraud Division at the SFO, Stuart Alford QC, provides five predictions for the SFO’s strategic priorities under Osofsky.

Background

Osofsky previously served as Regional Leader of Investigations for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) at Exiger, the global regulatory and financial crime, risk and compliance company. She has also held posts on the other side of the Atlantic. Her experience includes serving as a US federal prosecutor, as Deputy General Counsel and Ethics Officer at the FBI, as Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) at Goldman Sachs International, and as a member of the Corporate Investigation Division of Control Risks.

The UK’s Attorney General appointed Osofsky as Director of the SFO on 4 June 2018 and her term will begin on 3 September.

Predictions

Osofsky’s unique cross-border and corporate experience offers clues about how she may shape the SFO’s strategic priorities. Below are five predictions for the SFO that reflect her background.

  1. Strengthened cross-border relationships: The SFO has been strengthening its cross-border relationships in recent years, particularly with the United States, and under Osofsky this will be increased further. She holds both dual qualifications and dual nationality in the US and UK and has worked extensively in both jurisdictions. The benefit to the SFO of her experience will be still greater cooperation and coordination between UK and US enforcement. In fact, the Attorney General seemed to address this point in his announcement of the appointment when he said: “Ms Osofsky’s experience of working at an international level will enhance the SFO’s capabilities”.
  2. Improved corporate engagement: The agency may adopt a fresh view of how it engages with corporate suspects and their legal advisers. Osofsky brings recent and highly relevant experience working inside large corporate organisations. In particular, her time at Goldman Sachs and at Exiger will give her a perspective that is unusual amongst recent SFO directors.
  3. New ways of deploying Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs): Under Green’s leadership, the SFO entered into the UK’s first DPAs. Osofsky’s long-standing experience utilising the US equivalents of these mechanisms may see the SFO start to deploy DPAs in new and innovative ways.
  4. Increased focus on money laundering: Osofsky has previously identified money laundering as an even bigger issue than corruption. This perspective, coupled with her prior experience at Exiger and as the MLRO at Goldman Sachs, might suggest an increased focus on money laundering at the SFO, in coordination with other UK law enforcement agencies like the National Crime Agency (NCA).
  5. A combined agency: Since her appointment, Osofsky has stated that neither she nor the Attorney General want to merge the SFO and the NCA. However, her reported position on this has not been entirely consistent. She was previously quoted as being a supporter of Theresa May’s plans to bring the SFO under the remit of the NCA, saying that the change would allow the government to better maximize its limited resources.

Comment

In all, Osofsky brings a wealth of corporate and cross-border experience that will influence the SFO’s strategic priorities during her tenure. She says she is looking forward to “leading an emboldened SFO to even greater heights”. With a more robust funding structure now available, the SFO appears to be entering a transformative new period.