News & what's on - Written by on Monday, December 23, 2013 7:23 - 0 Comments

BREAKING: SFO opens criminal investigation into Rolls Royce. Opinion: The stakes are high.

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harlequin-fraud-office“The SFO confirmed today that the Director has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption at Rolls Royce.”

said the SFO in a press release this morning.

The Rolls Royce bribery allegations broke in the media over a year ago. 

Rolls Royce statement this morning was equally brief:

“Further to our announcement of December 6, 2012 relating to concerns about bribery and corruption in overseas markets, we have been informed by the Serious Fraud Office that it has now commenced a formal investigation into these matters.” 

The Director of the SFO has signalled that he and the SFO will not shy away from taking on big corporates.  However, some doubted the SFO’s ability to investigate large corporates given its limited resources and in the wake of the collapse of the Dahdahleh prosecution earlier this month.

The news underscores the SFO’s resolve in taking on big and complex international corruption investigations. 

In a recent speech “Striking Tigers as Well as Flies” the Joint Head of Bribery and Corruption at the SFO, Ben Morgan, said:

“Our remit is to deal with what we often refer to as the “top slice” of economic crime, and this is why last year our new Director reviewed and re-issued our take on criteria: to ensure that the cases we take on for criminal investigation really do meet that description. When considering whether to accept a case for investigation, he will ask himself whether the case demands the particular expertise, capability, multi-disciplinary approach and legislative powers that are available to the SFO. Factors will ordinarily include: the scale of the loss occasioned or threatened; the impact or potential impact upon the UK economy; the effect of the alleged conduct upon the UK’s reputation as a safe place to do business; and the degree of factual or legal difficulty to which the case may give rise. We are, in short, designed to ensure equality before the law.

This is reflected in our caseload. I do not intend to go into details, but even in the public domain it is known that we are investigating the types of cases that I said earlier might risk being overlooked as too difficult, or too sensitive.  So the example of the SFO – an organisation solely focused on tackling the most complex economic crime – is one way in which it might be possible to strike Tigers as well as Flies…

…striking Tigers as well as Flies comes at a price.  By their very nature, the complex cases we prosecute are high risk, by which I mean there is a lot more to go wrong than there would be in a simple case…

…the types of defendants we are up against are often hugely well-resourced and so assemble enormous defence teams who throw everything at us; these cases take a long time to come to trial; when they do come to trial, they often require many witnesses and the trials can last months; and most importantly of all, the very complexity of the matters being prosecuted can, in some cases, mean that at the end of all, we fail…”


Rolls Royce is a Tiger, an iconic British brand and these allegations will be unwelcome. 

The SFO is making good on its promise to investigate big British business without fear or favour. 

However, a lot will rest upon this case and others like it after recent SFO losses and errors. 

The stakes are high for everyone involved.

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