Tapped for a bung? Bung it on Twitter, says SFO.

SFO's Richard Alderman says social media could help stamp out corruption.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

With less than a month before the new Bribery Act comes into force, it seems officials are still deliberating ways the legislation could be enforced.

The Serious Fraud Office, the body behind the legislation, suggested yesterday that people could use Twitter to name and shame corrupt officials. ‘If someone is being hit for a bribe, isn’t the easiest thing just to put it on Twitter?’ Richard Alderman, the SFO’s director, said at a joint event between the International Business Leaders Forum and the US-Russia Business Council yesterday.

But perhaps the real issue is that Alderman wants the white-collar crime fighting agency to have the same powers as its US counterpart.  The US uses more aggressive techniques of tackling corporate crime by using covert surveillance.  As we mentioned last month, there’s something in the British mindset that doesn’t take white-collar crime as seriously as other crimes.  In the US there have been far more high-profile cases of executive felons receiving long sentences – Bernie Madoff, who’s currently serving 150 years, is a notable example.  Compare this to the string of failures in the UK during the 1990s: cases against Roger Levitt and the Maxwell brothers flopped and led to the SFO being dubbed the ‘Seriously Flawed Office.’

But in recent years the SFO has managed to salvage some of its reputation.  Its conviction rate has risen from a poor 62% to a creditable 90%. Nevertheless, it’s had to fight for survival.  Just this week the government announced it was revising its decision to disband the agency and said it wouldn’t be transferring the SFO to the new National Crime Agency due to be set up in 2013.  Since it was founded in 1988 the SFO has been led by lawyers, as it was felt that financial crime was their area of expertise.  Under the plans which have now been scrapped, the Home Secretary Theresa May wanted to give more power to the police and specialist investigators.

So the SFO has won the battle to stay in its current format (for now at least), but it’s bound to find itself in the spotlight again over its implementation of the Bribery Act.  Alderman’s suggestion that Twitter could be used to oust corrupt individuals will only add to the attention – after all, it’s remarkably easy to post allegations on Twitter, but not so easy to check they’re accurate.  

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