Judge Serious Fraud Office on its Libor probe, director David Green tells MPs

Justice committee told of plans to avoid 'fiasco' of investigation into Icelandic bank Kaupthing and customer Robert Tchenguiz

The director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has told a committee of MPs he accepts his agency will be judged largely on the performance of its ongoing investigation into allegations of Libor interest rate-fixing.

The SFO was criticised for its bungled four-year probe into failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing and the bank's largest customer, Mayfair investment tycoon Robert Tchenguiz.

David Green QC, who took over as head of the SFO in April, told MPs on the justice select committee that the Libor investigation involves a team of 40, several on secondment from the Financial Services Authority, as well as "huge amounts" of data from the regulator. This compares to a core SFO workforce of 300.

Green inherited the Tchenguiz case only to drop it last month after the past conduct of its investigation was heavily criticised during a judicial review.

Green said he was confident the Libor case would avoid the errors of the "Tchenguiz fiasco" – in part, because of an organisational restructuring, but also because of the early and continuing advice of outside counsel, Mukul Chawla QC.

Asked by MPs about an imminent report into SFO internal procedures, which was commissioned by attorney general Dominic Grieve QC after problems erupted in the Tchenguiz case, Green declined to comment.

The SFO boss said he did not want to pre-empt the report, a copy of which he has seen, but said its findings were "extremely helpful" and that its main recommendations had already been put in place since he started in the job.

The report is likely to be the second deeply critical review of the SFO in four years.

His predecessor, Richard Alderman, used a damning report by former New York prosecutor Jessica De Grazia as the justification for a radical overhaul of the SFO shortly after his appointment four years ago.

That upheaval saw many senior prosecutors and managers forced out. Many of Alderman's refocusing initiatives are now being reversed.

Green stressed the SFO should "never" turn down a case on the grounds that the agency did not have the resources.

He said the SFO, which this month moves to a new headquarters near Trafalgar Square, would supplement its workforce with "surge capacity" when big cases came along.

"We have made significant progress towards a new funding model for the SFO, which is a matter close to my heart," he said.

The Treasury has already promised it will provide an additional £3.5m to fund the Libor investigation.

Green told the justice committee: "I think there was historically a perception that the SFO was more willing to do a deal than to prosecute … What I have done is restate the purpose of the SFO, I think it got a bit blurred over time."

Green said he had launched four major investigations since taking charge at the SFO – believed to be a reference to the Libor inquiry; the reopening of an investigation into failed hedge fund group Weavering; a bribery probe into a UK subsidiary of Airbus maker EADS in relation to a contract with the Saudi National Guard; and an inquiry into payments made by Barclays Bank to Qatar Holdings at the height of the 2008 banking crisis.

The SFO head has also removed the automatic immunity from prosecution offered to those companies coming forward with admissions that they had been involved in bribery.

He said this was likely to have little impact on "genuine self-reporting" companies.

Asked if the SFO was looking at the allegation of market fixing in the energy sector revealed this week in the Guardian, Green gave little away. "It is a matter we would consider, as with other cases," he said.

Contributor

Simon Bowers

The GuardianTramp

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