The Serious Fraud Office has seen the sudden departure of its chief executive, only days before its director of operations is also due to leave.
In an unexpected move, Phillippa Williamson
has stepped down as SFO chief. She left the agency this week, and a spokesman said she
may not necessarily be replaced.
Ms Williamson, who joined the SFO in 2008, was responsible for the day-to-day running of the agency, while Richard Alderman, its director, took charge of strategy. Mr Alderman’s last day of a four-year tenure is Friday, after which he will be succeeded by David Green QC.
Ms Williamson said in a statement: “It has been a privilege to lead the SFO through a period of exceptional change during challenging times. I am proud to have worked with so many talented people both within the SFO and across government.
“I believe that the SFO is in better shape than ever to combat economic crime and I wish the incoming director [Mr Green] and all at the SFO my best wishes for the future.”
Ms Williamson was paid £125,000 in her role, plus £27,600 “benefits in kind” for travel and hotel costs as part of her commute to London from her home in northern England, according to the SFO’s accounts.
Mr Green will inherit an agency whose budget has been slashed from £53.2m in 2008 to £35.9m this year, while grappling with new powers that it inherited when the Bribery Act came into force last July – the biggest overhaul of Britain’s graft legislation for more than a century. It is also expected to be the principal user of US-style deferred-prosecution agreements should they be passed into law later this year as planned.
The agency is suffering from low morale, particularly in relation to its senior management. A 2011 survey of SFO staff, seen by the Financial Times, reports that only 13 per cent of those interviewed believed that “the actions of senior managers are consistent with the SFO’s values”.
The SFO is currently subject to an independent review of its operations by the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate in the first inspection of its kind.
The review was announced weeks after the SFO had to apologise for the way in which it drafted arrest warrants for Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, the property development brothers, in connection with an investigation into Kaupthing, the Icelandic bank that collapsed in 2008. The SFO’s actions in relation to the arrest warrants are now the subject of a judicial review.
Mr Alderman said of Ms Williamson’s exit: “I am very grateful to Phillippa for the crucial role she played in transforming the SFO. We could not have achieved all that we have without Phillippa’s leadership and commitment.
“Her drive has allowed us to deliver year on year improvements despite decreasing funding.”