Raymond Doherty 4 Jun 2018 03:34pm

Lisa Osofsky is new SFO director

The Serious Fraud Office has appointed Lisa Osofsky, a former FBI lawyer, as its new director

Osofsky, a US lawyer and English barrister and former deputy general counsel and ethics officer for the FBI, will take over from David Green as head of the UK financial watchdog.

Interim director Mark Thompson will return to his previous role as SFO chief operating officer when Osofsky joins on 3 September

“I look forward to building on the SFO’s successful record in the fight against economic crime and leading an emboldened SFO to even greater heights,” said Osofsky.

Last year, prime minister Theresa May scrapped her manifesto pledge to incorporate the SFO into the National Crime Agency (NCA) after losing her majority in the General Election.

At the time, Osofsky was reported in the Telegraph as saying that the pledge fitted in with May’s plan to show that Britain was a safe place to do business post Brexit.

“By combining them [May] is creating a body that goes after risks that threaten national security such as money laundering from major crime and even terrorism,” she said.

Green, who had headed the SFO since 2012, stepped down from the role of director last month. In 2016, his term was extended by two years, the standard extension under Cabinet Office guidelines.

Reaction from the legal profession

Louise Hodges, head of criminal litigation at Kingsley Napley LLP, welcomed the “novel appointment”, saying it will bring “new insight and fresh thinking” to the organisation. She predicts Osofsky’s prosecution experience in the US could mean an increase in Deferred Prosecution Agreements, where settlements and deals are more common.

Alistair Graham, partner at Mayer Brown, is equally positive. “A dynamic, successful woman, taking a key appointment in this stage of her career suggests that this is not just a job for her – but a mission to achieve change.”

However, the question everyone is asking, says Hodges, is whether Osofsky will stand up to and protect the SFO from political interference.

“Her success is important to the future prosecution of business crime in this country and for the message we send internationally about the UK’s attitude to corporate crime,” said Hodges.

Graham asks whether her previous statements on merging the SFO with the NCA mean that it is “all change ahead”.

Christopher David, counsel in WilmerHale’s UK Investigations & Criminal Litigation practice, believes her previous stance “doesn’t augur well for the SFO's independence”.

He also hopes Osofsky speeds up the SFO’s “inordinately slow investigations and decision-making process, which should be helped by the agency’s recent core funding boost.”