Off to a flying start

Lisa Osofsky stood down at the end of her five-year term as director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) earlier this year, and Nick Ephgrave was appointed. This is not uncommon - in recent years only David Green has extended his term as director (and then only by one year). What is perhaps slightly more remarkable is the stir the new SFO director is making so early on in his tenure, having started on 25 September 2023.

As a former police officer, Ephgrave is the first non-lawyer director. Perhaps this fresh perspective is just what the agency needed to put a spring back in its step! In a recent FT interview, Ephgrave stated his goals were to move quickly, strengthen resources and prioritise cases with the largest number of victims. These objectives are clearly designed to overcome recent challenges seen in high profile cases and documented in the Altman and Calvert-Smith reviews as well as Osofsky’s testimony to the Public Accounts Committee and the Justice Committee.

So far, he seems to be delivering. It has been reported that more than new 100 jobs at the agency have been offered. In October, the SFO launched a criminal investigation into Safe Hands Plans Limited and its parent company SHP Capital Holdings Limited, which had left approximately 46,000 plan holders out of pocket for pre-paid funeral plans of up to £4,000 each. Dawn raids were recently executed on Axiom Ince after the alleged misappropriation of £66m of client funds. Following this, on 6 December, the SFO announced it had raided a site associated with the aircraft parts-supplier AOG Technics Ltd as part of a criminal investigation relating to allegedly fraudulent misconduct. Further, an individual has been detained for questioning.

Ephgrave may also be able to capitalise on some legacy successes. On 14 November 2023, Ephgrave saw the successful conviction of an individual when solicitor William Osmond was convicted for tipping off his client that the SFO was looking into the source of funds used to purchase a high-value property in Mayfair. Perhaps this run of luck will continue as the trial of two men accused of bribery and associated with an Airbus subsidiary (GPT Special Project Management) is expected to finish in March 2024.

While some questions remain unanswered on legacy cases, such as charging decisions against 13 individuals associated with Glencore, recent progress suggests Ephgrave is off to a flying start.