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Serious Fraud Office chief to step down after controversial tenure

Lisa Osofsky - Geoff Pugh
Lisa Osofsky - Geoff Pugh

The head of the fraud squad is to step down following a controversial five-year tenure which has included large court victories as well as two botched investigations.

Lisa Osofsky, an American and former FBI lawyer, will leave the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) next year and a search for her successor is to begin shortly.

She has been in post since August 2018 and has presided over a string of major bribery investigations, most recently that of mining giant Glencore.

Her tenure has also been dogged by controversies, including the botched prosecutions in the Unaoil case.

It is understood her last day will be August 28 next year, the end of her current five-year contract.

The recruitment process to find her successor is to begin imminently but Ms Osofsky is understood to have agreed to remain in post beyond August 28 if necessary, to prevent any gaps in leadership.

In a message to staff on Wednesday, seen by The Telegraph, she wrote: "I said I would keep you updated on plans relating to my tenure at the SFO. It is after all, no secret that I committed to a five year contract as director of the Serious Fraud Office.

"Since I last updated you, I have spoken with the Attorney General and we have agreed that I will serve my tenure in full, until 28 August 2023."

Ms Osofsky hailed 2022 as an "extraordinary year", following the recent conviction of mining giant Glencore, which last week was ordered to pay £280m after pleading guilty to sprawling bribery schemes.

She also told staff she remained committed to implementing changes recommended by independent reviews into failures at the SFO, which has been heavily criticised for its handling of the Unaoil and Serco fraud trials.

After failures in evidence disclosure, three defendants in the Unaoil case had their convictions overturned at appeal, while the Serco trial itself collapsed due to similar issues.

Ms Osofsky has apologised for the fiascos and admitted that they caused her sleepless nights.

In her email to staff, she added: "Until the future director is ready to take the reins of this extraordinary organisation, you have my full commitment to ensuring we continue to implement the findings of the reviews, push for the legislative changes and resourcing uptick we need and to continue delivering justice for victims."

Reflecting on court victories this year, she said: "I hope you are filled with a deep sense of satisfaction when reflecting on these substantial achievements by you and your colleagues, on behalf of the SFO.

"Your work is making a demonstrable difference to law enforcement efforts in the UK and worldwide, and delivering justice to victims of the very worst economic crimes."

An advert for the job of director – which pays £180,000 a year – is expected to be posted by the UK Government soon.