The Serious Fraud Office investigates and prosecutes serious and complex fraud so that New Zealand is a safe place to invest and do business
Our purpose and role
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigates and prosecutes serious or complex financial crime, including bribery and corruption.
The presence of a Justice Sector agency dedicated to white collar crime is integral to New Zealand’s long-standing reputation for transparency and low levels of corruption. The agency contributes to a just society and supports the government’s strategic objectives of a strong, cohesive, internationally competitive economy.
We partner with a network of other law enforcement agencies, nationally and cross-border, to provide investors and the public with the confidence that serious financial crime will be detected and prosecuted.
Priority cases focus on:
- multi-victim investment fraud
- fraud involving those in important positions of trust (e.g. lawyers)
- bribery and corruption
- significant potential damage to New Zealand’s reputation for fair and free financial markets.
Custodial sentences and being publicly named are strong deterrents to white collar crime. While our role is not to seek compensation for victims, high-profile cases also allow us to educate and share our expertise with the wider business community.
How the SFO operates
The SFO is funded through a single appropriation, Vote: Serious Fraud. We carry out investigations under the statutory powers of the Serious Fraud Office Act 1990. The Minister of Police is responsible for the SFO however under the Act the agency’s Director has complete independence in making operational decisions.
Special provisions within this Act include:
- the ability to obtain any information or documents relevant to an investigation from any person
- the ability to compel any person to attend interviews, where they must honestly and fully answer questions on any matter relevant to an investigation
- the Director’s decision to investigate any particular matter not being open to review.
Part I and Part II of the SFO Act outline the different circumstances under which we operate. Broadly speaking, the detection of serious financial crime is carried out under Part I, while investigations into identified instances of possible financial crime are carried out under Part II.
General Managers head an Evaluation and Intelligence team, and two Investigation teams comprised of financial investigators, forensic accountants and investigating lawyers.
Performance targets for investigations
Because we investigate very complex matters, completing an investigation can take several months. Our targets are:
- To evaluate a complaint within 30 working days
- To complete 40 percent of investigations within six months and 80 percent within 12 months.
The process from complaint to prosecution is:
- All complaints are initially assessed by the Evaluation and Intelligence team to determine whether the allegations merit the SFO’s involvement.
- If the complaint does not meet the criteria it is directed to a more appropriate law enforcement agency.
- The Director reviews the evaluation report and decides whether to initiate a formal investigation.
- The case is passed to one of two investigating teams. If the decision to prosecute is made, charges and formal statements are prepared and the defendant is committed for trial.
The SFO's history
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was established in 1990, following the collapse of capital markets. Our specialised, Auckland-based agency began with 37 full-time employees and a budget of $4 million, and has achieved consistently high conviction rates for serious financial crime.
Historically, the responsible minister was the Attorney-General. Following a decision in 2008 not to integrate the SFO with the NZ Police, the government transferred ministerial responsibility to the Minister of Police.
High-profile cases include:
- Former Auditor General and ACC boss, Jeff Chapman, who was convicted in 1997 of 10 charges of fraudulently using documents
- Otago District Health Board CIO, Michael Swann, who was convicted in 2009 of defrauding the DHB of approximately $16.9M. He was sentenced to 9.5 years’ imprisonment
- David Ross, instigator of New Zealand’s largest-ever Ponzi scheme, who was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years’ 10 months imprisonment.
From 2008 to 2014 the SFO was intensively engaged with finance company collapses. Sixteen companies were investigated. This resulted in 20 individuals from nine companies receiving custodial sentences.
2015 marked 25 years since the SFO was established. Click on the document below to see a few of the highlights from our first 25 years.
The SFO has since gone through a period of change. It has assumed new responsibilities for dealing with complaints of bribery and corruption. It has also adopted a new strategy and organisation structure to better respond to sophisticated cross-border crime, environmental risks and the exploitation of technology. By 2016, the agency had grown to 55 full-time employees and a budget of $9.3 million.