HC Deb 17 March 1997 vol 292 cc622-4
28. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Attorney-General what measures the Serious Fraud Office has recently taken to reduce fraud. [18857]

The Attorney-General

The Serious Fraud Office continues to enhance its ability to investigate and detect, and thus deter, serious and complex fraud, including by the ever more sophisticated use of information technology, both to marshal and analyse documentation and to present cases to the jury.

Mr. Banks

How can anyone take seriously a Government who talk about restricting and dealing with serious fraud yet who allowed Asil Nadir to escape from this country? We are still waiting to know what they are going to do to get him back. He gave £400,000 of stolen money to the Conservative party. What about Mr. Octav Botnar, who gave stolen money to the Conservative party? When can we expect to see that money returned? And what about the Greek fascist, Mr. Latsis? How can the Attorney-General talk about serious fraud when all his party is a fraud; the Conservative party is funded by fascists and crooks.

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman is, once again, more interested in ranting than in facts. First, he might remember that the SFO stands ready to prosecute Mr. Asil Nadir as soon as he returns to this country from Northern Cyprus, with which we have no extradition treaty, and his duty is to return as soon as possible. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman might remember that, during its eight and a half years of existence, the SFO has prosecuted almost 160 very large frauds. It has achieved the conviction of more than 62 per cent. of all defendants, but—even more important—in more than 75 per cent. of cases it has obtained the conviction of at least one person and, when only one person has been convicted, that has almost always been the chief architect of the fraud.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the participation of ordinary members of the public in the criminal justice system through sitting on juries—even on juries in fraud trials—is one of the reasons why the criminal justice system can reassure people about its fairness, and is also the surest protection of the liberty of the individual?

The Attorney-General

The importance of the jury system has motivated and governed the actions of the Government for more than 18 years. In some recent cases it has proved difficult adequately to prosecute the full ambit of fraud against an individual, which is why the Government have indicated that they will look again at that issue. However, my hon. and learned Friend raises an important point, of which we shall not lose sight.