David Green took charge as the new Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on 23 April 2012.

Since taking the reins, Mr Green has confirmed that the SFO’s new powers to prosecute bribery offences would remain an important tool in actions overseas. He has however also confirmed that only the largest cases, that prevented UK companies from competing for big contracts on a level playing field, would be of interest to him. He promised to investigate “significant strategic targets” suspected of committing the most complex financial crime and overseas corruption.            

Mr Green also responded to the perception that the SFO strike deals with companies too often rather than prosecuting companies, by saying that he wants to “rebalance the relationship between prosecution and civil settlement”. He offered support to the US-style deferred prosecution agreements (which will be consulted on this summer) which aim to make out-of-court settlements easier but made it clear that this was only one of many options available to the SFO.

The scope of the Bribery Act does suggest that a wide range of situations could amount to bribery.  Given Mr Green’s comments, it seems that when considering whether something could amount to a bribe, companies should be focusing on whether their actions were sufficient to mean that competition was not on a level playing field. Companies that thought that Act was “much ado about nothing” may want to re-consider their position.