- Nick Ephgrave wants to reverse a drop in the number of cases going to court
- He aims to recruit up to 150 new investigators, increasing fraudbusters to 600
- Ephgrave believes recruiting more permanent staff will make it more efficient
Hiring: New SFO boss Nick Ephgrave
The Serious Fraud Office is racing to hire another 150 sleuths as it looks to repair its reputation following a number of high-profile setbacks.
The new boss of Britain’s top anti-graft agency, former Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave wants to reverse a drop in the number of cases that were brought to court under his predecessor.
He is aiming to recruit up to 150 new investigators, increasing the organisation’s army of fraudbusters to 600, the maximum allowed by spending limits agreed with the Treasury. More than 100 job offers have already been made.
Ephgrave believes recruiting more permanent staff will make it more efficient. At the moment, the SFO is relying on temporary workers to make up the numbers.
His loftier ambitions for the SFO could lead to a showdown with notoriously tight-fisted Treasury officials.
The former police officer, who took over in September, is the first non-lawyer to take charge of the agency in its 35-year history.
Ephgrave said: ‘Fraud wrecks lives and damages the economy. I am committed to building SFO capability and creating the team this country needs to tackle complex economic crime.
‘Talented people from all backgrounds are inspired by our mission and are joining our ranks in numbers.’
Under his predecessor, former FBI lawyer Lisa Osofsky, the number of criminal cases being pursued by the agency plunged by half.
The SFO suffered a major blow in August when it was forced to abandon investigations into mining firms Rio Tinto and Eurasian Natural Resources.
Several other cases have collapsed over the last few years, earning the agency the nickname of the Serious Farce Office.
In March, the SFO abandoned a trial against three former executives from outsourcing giant G4S after the prosecutor said the agency had offered no evidence against them despite an investigation that lasted for a decade.
Ephgrave has previously said he is focused on prosecutions in cases that involve large numbers of victims.
He is undoubtedly hoping to avoid a repeat of 2017 when the SFO’s very existence was called into question as the Government mulled whether to fold it into the National Crime Agency, sometimes referred to as the ‘British FBI’.
One key win came in November last year when commodities giant Glencore was fined £281 million after the company pleaded guilty to a string of bribery offences following charges brought by the SFO.
Last month, SFO agents arrested seven people and raided nine locations linked to law firm Axiom Ince as part of a probe concerning £66 million of missing client money.
A week later, the agency confiscated £250,000 which convicted fraudster Achilleas Kallakis had invested in The Queen’s Club, a prestigious tennis club in West London.