Lisa Osofsky will leave her role at the head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the summer of 2023. She will have served only one term.
The US-UK citizen has had a storied time at the agency. The SFO has seen recent success in its prosecution of Glencore for the payment of bribes in a number of African states.
However, there have also been some high-profile losses, not least around the prosecution of individuals associated with Unaoil.
The SFO accused Unaoil of having paid bribes to win business in various countries. The courts agreed, sending some of its executives to prison. On appeal, though, the prosecutions were found to be unsafe.
The Attorney General launched a review of the case, which was critical of the SFO and Osofsky. The review found she had faced a “difficult situation very early in her tenure and made a number of mistakes and misjudgements”.
There were shortcomings in recording details of how the SFO had worked with an American private investigator. The latter had been employed by the family behind Unaoil.
The review by David Calvert-Smith said the SFO’s notes showing progress on the Unaoil case were “anodyne” and “hardly helpful”.
Law firm Rahman Ravelli senior partner Aziz Rahman said the SFO had some successes under Osofsky. However, he said, her tenure was “controversial”.
Rahman pointed to the Unaoil case as being the most notable instance of this. The review “fell just short of saying that the Director had made an inappropriate decision to have contact with a third party acting as a ‘fixer’ in the case”.
Bringing in someone new is a “sensible step” for the SFO, Rahman continued. “There is arguably a need within the agency for some fresh blood at the very top and some new thinking.
“The Calvert-Smith report into the SFO’s Unaoil failings highlighted systemic failures in the agency’s ways of working. It may be an appropriate time for a new person at the head of the SFO to act as the new broom that sweeps clean and ushers in different, more suitable working methods.”
The lawyer praised the SFO’s use of deferred prosecution agreements under Osofsky.
“It is certainly about time that we saw the SFO operating at the same high levels as some of its counterparts, such as the US Department of Justice. Although whether the Americanisation of the SFO that Osofsky ushered in will stop with her departure remains to be seen,” he said.
One area where the SFO could focus would be on the prosecutions of individuals, Rahman said. This has “happened all too rarely”.
Osofsky began her career as a federal prosecutor in the US.
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