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U.K. SFO Seeks $31 Million Boost for ‘Blockbuster’ Cases

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Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Serious Fraud Office sought an extra 19 million pounds ($31 million) from the government to pay for “blockbuster” cases including a probe into manipulation of benchmark interest rates.

The SFO needs the almost 60 percent increase in funding to “meet an urgent cash requirement on existing services,” according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office today. The money would go to the agency’s probes concerning Libor, Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and Barclays Plc as well as potential litigation costs incurred over a collapsed case involving property tycoons Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz.

While the SFO’s budget plunged to 32 million pounds in 2013-2014 from 52 million pounds in 2008, the agency has a “blockbuster funding” agreement with the Treasury that allows it to ask for a top-up for important cases. The prosecutor previously received 3.5 million pounds in 2012 to help fund its investigation into the rigging of the London interbank offered rate benchmark, or Libor.

“This is entirely predictable,” said Emily Thornberry, the spokeswoman for legal issues for the U.K. opposition Labour Party. “I have been saying for months that the scale and pace of budget cuts inflicted on the SFO will make prosecuting its caseload impossible.”

Bribery, Corruption

The SFO started investigating Libor-rigging in July 2012 and has so far charged three people who are scheduled to stand trial next year. One month later the agency opened an investigation into certain commercial arrangements between Barclays and Qatar Holdings in 2008, and in December the prosecutor started a criminal investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption at Rolls Royce.

“The SFO has adequate funding from HM Treasury to deliver its regular caseload,” the Treasury said in an e-mailed statement. “In the event the SFO are required to fund an exceptionally large case, they are able to request additional funds.”

The SFO has been criticized for a number of botched cases in recent years, the most high-profile of which was an investigation involving the Tchenguiz brothers.

The pair were the subject of an SFO raid in 2011 over alleged offenses in relation to the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing Bank Hf. The investigation was dropped and the brothers are suing the agency for around 300 million pounds.

In December, the SFO abandoned proceedings in the middle of a seven-week bribery trial against British businessman Victor Dahdaleh, stating there was no realistic chance of a conviction.

To contact the reporter on this story: Suzi Ring in London at sring5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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