Mueller Protege Wants to Take ‘Hard Cases’ at U.K. Fraud Office
(Bloomberg) -- When the U.K.’s new top prosecutor talks about her ambitions, she references not only the first time she worked with the Serious Fraud Office -- when she was an Justice Department attorney and sent to London to work on a massive bank fraud scandal -- but also who sent her: Robert Mueller, who is now running the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Mueller was then head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Lisa Osofsky -- who has dual U.S.-U.K. citizenship -- worked in the fraud section on the probe that shuttered Bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1991. What she’s tackling now at the SFO could be just as spectacular, with open cases ranging from a bribery investigation into Airbus SE to the looming fraud trial of a former Barclays Plc chief executive officer.
"You’ve got to take on hard cases, we don’t mind that here," Osofsky said in her first interview since becoming the agency’s director in late August. "We don’t have a plea-bargaining system like they do in the U.S. So we know we’ve got to take our chances. But we’re willing to go down fighting. We take on some very big, well-heeled defendants. We try to get the corporates into the dock."
Ososfky’s stance is in line with her predecessor, David Green, who pushed the agency to take on more ambitious cases. It also comes as U.K. politicians contemplate life outside the European Union, where they have to balance pledges to crack down on corruption with the desire to draw in big businesses, not all of which appreciate judicial scrutiny.
The 57-year-old stands out from predecessors for being only the second appointment to come from the private sector in the SFO’s 30-year history, for the breadth of her experience, and for her dual American-British background.
After Harvard Law School, she started as a federal white collar crime prosecutor in her native Chicago, before joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation, becoming Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s first money-laundering monitor, and overseeing a compliance program imposed on HSBC Holdings Plc. In between, Osofsky, who’s married with two children, qualified as a barrister in England and Wales.
SFO corruption cases often focus on whether a Western company paid a bribe in a poorer country in order to win a contract. The cases can take years to unpick as investigators sift through millions of documents. Perhaps even more importantly, though, they have to get evidence that they can use in an English court from off-shore locations not known for transparency, and nations where politically-connected individuals are sometimes suspects.
This international dimension helps explain why Osofsky has made cooperation with regulators around the world the hallmark of her first three months in the job -- she’s already traveled far and wide to meet her counterparts. Meeting them will make them more willing to help when a request lands on their desk, she said.
"I’ve got people who are all over the world now, if it’s with government or in the private sector," Osofsky said in her office overlooking London’s Trafalgar Square. “I’m very committed to keeping all those relationships live."
In some ways Osofsky’s internationalism is at odds in a world where many intergovernmental relationships appear to be breaking down. The U.K. is set to leave the EU in March, depriving the SFO of tools that simplify extradition, which was harder than some might like. In one of the agency’s highest profile cases, the Euribor trial against a group of about a dozen traders accused of rate rigging, five were able to avoid charges by remaining on the continent.
But for Osofsky, cooperation between investigators in democratic countries is more about inter-agency relationships and isn’t overly affected by politics.
The SFO now focuses on exchanging evidence and intelligence that’s the starting point of some probes. The U.S. Justice Department seconded a lawyer to the SFO in 2016. In September, former U.S. prosecutor Peter Pope, now at law firm Jenner & Block, took a temporary post to help strengthen the agency’s international relationships.
"My world feels like it’s getting bigger," Osofsky said. "We’re not as worried about the posturing at the higher level."
Much of Osofsky’s attention has been directed toward the U.S., which remains the global policeman because it can go after anyone who uses dollars while committing a crime. But cooperation also requires compromise. For Osofsky, the agency located where the majority of the harm took place or where most of the evidence is should lead.
“I don’t really care who gets called the lead and who doesn’t as long as no one ruins my cases," she said. "If the only way you’re getting into a case is dollar transactions and a
whole market is being made in sterling here, maybe it should be done here."
Much of the pressure on the SFO comes from suspects and their lawyers, frustrated that it takes years to bring a case or clear their name as the agency carries out its global hunt for evidence.
“If I’ve got to wait a while to get some evidence, I’m gonna wait," Osofsky said. "If it takes some time to nail it down, I’m going to take the time I need. I am psyched to see what our docket looks like. I’m going to try to make my mark. I’m also not going to do something like indict the wrong person, just because there’s some noise around a certain decision."
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