SFO says no changes made after South Canterbury criticism but oversight strengthened

The Serious Fraud Office says it hasn't made any changes.

The Serious Fraud Office says it hasn't made any changes to the way it carries out complex investigations as a result of criticism of its investigation into South Canterbury Finance although it now routinely involves its most experienced staff from the get-go.

Former South Canterbury Finance chief executive Lachie McLeod was awarded $240,000 in costs by High Court Justice Paul Heath last month. The judge found that the SFO's investigating officer wasn't experienced enough to be running such a complex investigation and that the investigation "fell well below that which the public is entitled to expect."

Justice Heath was also critical that the SFO hadn't interviewed Treasury secretary John Whitehead about his decision to include South Canterbury Finance in the Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme, and noted some witnesses were only spoken to once. In October, Mr McLeod was found not guilty of five charges related to the failed finance company and he  sought almost $1.4 million in costs.

SFO general counsel Mark Williams said the white collar crime investigator "has not made operational or oversight changes in response to the decision of Justice Heath. However, as part of a continuous improvement programme" the SFO "recently made changes to the oversight of investigations to involve our most experienced staff in a matter from the point when a complaint arises." That included a focus on the scope of an investigation at the outset and during the life of the probe.

Direct oversight of the South Canterbury investigation rested with the then general manager Simon McArley, to whom the case manager reported, and a regular review of the investigation was also carried out by the then director, Adam Feeley, Mr Williams said in written replies to questions. Experienced panel counsel were also engaged at an early stage of the investigation and were involved in its planning and direction.

Messrs McArley and Feeley have both since left the SFO.

The SFO is satisfied that procedures for interviewing suspects "accord with the law" and its investigation wasn't constrained by inadequate funding, he said. Neither was it constrained in approaching other government officials, Williams said.

Chief executive Julie Read declined to be interviewed.


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