New Zealand Law Society - Decline in understanding of SFO work

Decline in understanding of SFO work

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A decline in public awareness of the Serious Fraud Office's work may be one of the reasons why just 3% of complaints made to the SFO resulted in investigations in the last year.

Parliament's Law and Order Committee has released its report on the Annual Review of the Serious Fraud Office for the year to 30 June 2016.

The committee says the SFO's Public Trust and Confidence Survey indicated a decline in public awareness of the SFO's work, with awareness at 60% in 2016 compared to 79% in 2012.

"We asked whether this created a risk of people not reporting financial crimes to the SFO. We were told that the SFO needed to strike an appropriate balance between lifting its media and public profile, and respecting the sensitivity of ongoing investigations," the report says.

The committee notes that only 16 of the 596 complaints made to the SFO in the year to 30 June 2016 resulted in investigations, and asked whether this indicated that people did not sufficiently understand its mandate.

"The SFO told us that this was true in part. Where matters were not within the SFO's mandate, it advised complainants. Where relevant, it referred them to other agenices."

Of the 596 complaints made to the SFO in 2015/16, seven were referred by the Police. Of these, four did not proceed to investigation. Three were closed following initial inquiries, and one was referred back to the Police.

The committee also noted that there were some issues with the SFO's decision to change the way it reported on its investigations, dividing them into two categories: Part 1 inquiries, and Part 2 investigations.

"In 2015/16 the SFO did not meet its timeliness targets for Part 2 investigations. We were told this was because the targets were unrealistic. Part 2 investigations take more time and resources, but the targets had not been adjusted to reflect this when the two categories of investigations were created."

The report says the SFO acknowledged that this was "confusing" and said the problem would be rectified. The timeliness measures for Part 2 investigations have been revised for future years.