U.K. SFO Director Gears Up for Agency’s Watershed Moment

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office is facing what Director David Green calls a “watershed” moment in his effort to salvage the agency’s reputation as the first cases initiated under his watch come to trial.

Two of Green’s earliest initiatives -- reopening a dropped probe into the collapse of hedge fund Weavering Capital (UK) Ltd. and investigating individuals for rigging interest rates -- will go to trial in the coming weeks. They’re “cases which I started,” the director said, and will show whether his lobbying for more resources and ambition have been successful.

“It’s a big, really important, watershed time,” Green said in an interview at his London office yesterday. “We’ve got the people, we’ve got the money, we’ve got the cases -- what we need is results. It is my fervent hope, and indeed my expectation, that results will start to come through.”

Green joined the SFO in April 2012 on a mission to turn it around after a series of failed cases had politicians and lawyers questioning whether to merge the prosecutor with other agencies. Within months, he reopened the probe into Magnus Peterson’s role in Weavering’s demise -- which had been dropped in 2011 on doubts the SFO could win a conviction -- and began investigating the London interbank offered rate manipulation scandal, one his predecessor had left to the markets regulator.

Peterson’s trial is set to begin this month. The first individual Libor-rigging case will be heard in January.

The SFO has continued to take on bigger cases and seek more funding for so-called blockbuster investigations. It opened a probe in July into rigging allegations in the foreign-exchange markets. The agency is preparing to ask for another budget increase that will probably exceed the 19 million-pound ($31 million) bump it requested in January, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. That’s more than half the SFO’s total annual budget.

The agency’s critics still question whether it should merge with other prosecution agencies meaning “its future could be at stake,” said Jason Mansell, a U.K. trial lawyer. “Whether those voices prevail may well be influenced by the success or otherwise of these prosecutions. It may not just be the defendants that are on trial.”

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