Trust and transparency are demands of today’s contemporary workplace environment. When companies identify, embrace and promote these values, employees are more likely to report misconduct or serve as witnesses to corporate wrongdoing. While this may benefit a company in many ways—regulators can also use this to their advantage.

Earlier this week, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) provided compliance professionals with a glimpse into the mechanics of its investigative process. While the agency’s top investigators may rely on technology, industry professionals and, in some cases, external counsel to help in prosecuting cases, there’s one thing the SFO depends on: credible witness accounts.

During remarks at the European Compliance and Ethics Institute conference in Prague, Alun Milford, SFO General Counsel explained how the agency investigates and prosecutes financial crime. “…People who give an account to an internal investigation are liable to be witnesses in any criminal case we might bring,” he said. “An important way in which accuracy or integrity is tested is by reference to first accounts.”

Disclosure of first witness accounts have always been a challenge. In some cases, the agency became wrapped up in “hard-fought applications” to halt legal proceedings due to a lack of solid witness credibility. But, according to Milford, “that we have, to date, defeated those claims does not mean that they or a version of them could never succeed.”

The job of government agencies such as the SFO and industry watchdogs is to ensure regulations are in place and properly enforced. They are not trying to find violations, rather they are hoping to deter unethical behavior. A well- trained workforce that understands a company’s code of conduct and the spirit of this document will feel more free to act in ways that could make the job of a regulator much easier.

Read Alun Milford, SFO General Counsel full speech here.

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