The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) tackles large-scale fraud, bribery and corruption in the UK, acting as both investigator and prosecutor.

The SFO was created and given its powers under the Criminal Justice Act 1987 and was established in 1988. With a strong international focus, the SFO collaborates with overseas jurisdictions to effectively disrupt criminal groups, and assist overseas jurisdictions with their investigations.

International Cooperation

On the 28th November 2018, the 35th International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was held on Washington DC.

Lisa Osofsky, Director of the SFO, gave a keynote address in which she outlined the increasing importance of international cooperation in effectively combating cross-border fraud, bribery and corruption.

Osofsky outlined how prosecutors, regulators and law enforcement around the world are working together more closely than ever before, utilising methods such as international deployments and joint investigation teams.

“This is the future. Prosecutors from different jurisdictions are learning how we do our work under different systems of law, and we are sharing best practices”, said Osofsky.

These arrangements are mutually beneficial, and also allow the SFO and the UK more broadly, to learn from best practices in other countries.

Full Cooperation

The concept of ‘full cooperation’ is explored in the address, frankly identifying the critical elements that make cooperation effective and make the path to admissible evidence easier:

  • Make key evidence such as documents, financial records and witnesses, promptly available.
  • Make the evidence available in a way that complies with local laws.
  • Clearly highlight the most important evidence – both inculpatory and exculpatory.
  • Do not do anything that creates proof issues or creates procedural barriers.

Focus on Technology

While rapid technological development has enabled criminals to conduct cross-border and computer-enabled crimes, it has also led to an unprecedented amount of data and evidence available in criminal investigations.

One unique challenge identified in the key note address is that “Over the years, the issue has shifted from not enough information to too much. In the expanding world of data, this now means finding evidential needles in huge digital haystacks.”

Interestingly, the problem to this solution may be technology itself. The SFO has been exploring ways in which technology can help them to more quickly identify both inculpatory and exculpatory evidence, and uncover the varied ways in which sophisticated criminals converse.

Corporate Compliance

With increasing global anti-corruption efforts, there is more pressure than ever for corporations to ensure compliance. With the increasing professionalisation of the compliance function, the SFO identifies that there is often undue pressure from management to ensure that compliance efforts do not hinder business growth.

Osofsky reinforces that favourable dispositions, such as Deferred Prosecution Agreements, will not be available to corporations who do not have sufficient compliance systems in place.


The Serious Fraud Office tackles only the most serious cases of fraud, bribery and corruption impacting the UK. Due to the increasingly transnational nature of these crime types, international cooperation is essential in effective investigations and prosecutions.