Lisa Osofsky, director of the Serious Fraud Office, which has been hit by a wave of departures © Charlie Bibby/FT

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has lost three of its top executives in the past three months including its chief investigator and head of proceeds of crime, adding to a string of departures in the past 15 months.

According to individuals close to the SFO, chief investigator Kevin Davis, head of strategy and policy Hannah von Dadelszen and Elizabeth Baker, head of its proceeds of crime, have resigned since July.

It means that the agency, responsible for prosecuting the UK’s most complex fraud cases, has lost six of its most important staff members in just over a year. 

A degree of turnover at the 450-strong organisation is expected due to the limited progression for very senior roles and the nature of public prosecutorial work, which many lawyers intersperse with a career in the private sector. 

However, the close order of such senior exits has surprised ex-agency staff members and campaign groups who say it puts a strain on the organisation at a time when it is fending off an employment tribunal claim by a former staff member and preparing for an internal review. 

The probe centres on private contact that director Lisa Osofsky and other staff members — including Mr Davis — had with a Miami-based agent named David Tinsley who was working for suspects in its “Unaoil” corruption case. Stinging criticism from a UK judge triggered an upcoming review of that contact, overshadowing the agency’s three convictions.

Mr Davis, who is leaving for the Guernsey Financial Intelligence Unit according to individuals close to the SFO, is one of its most important figures with an over 30-year career superintending investigations against organised criminals and fraudsters. There is no suggestion his departure is related to the Tinsley affair. 

The SFO said: “A degree of turnover is routine and healthy for individuals as they develop their careers and allows organisations to attract new talent and experience. We recruit skilled and dedicated people whether their employment with us is a long term vocation or part of a varied career.” 

The exits of Ms Baker, who heads up a unit that recovers ill-gotten gains and Ms von Dadelszen, who is leaving for the fraud division of the Crown Prosecution Service, follow the departure of a series of other senior figures. 

Those include co-head of fraud and corruption Camilla da Silva, who left this year for law firm Simmons & Simmons, chief technology officer Ben Denison, who joined law firm RPC in November, and Mark Thompson — former SFO chief operating officer — who joined KPMG in August 2019.

“It is difficult to believe that these [departures] do not have an effect, at least in the short term, on the way the SFO functions,” said Azizur Rahman, senior partner at law firm Rahman Ravelli.

“The fact that the most recent of these departures has come at what is a challenging time for the SFO cannot help its cause. Difficulties caused by the pandemic have restricted the SFO’s ability to conduct interviews and made it hard for the agency to ensure other aspects of its work keep running smoothly . . . The loss of those in senior positions will do nothing to ease that pressure.”

In spite of those difficulties the SFO has recently charged five suspects in its case against defunct Balli Group and charged Airbus subsidiary GPT along with three connected individuals. In September the agency also charged three former G4S executives over a prisoner tagging scandal.

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