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Top UK prosecutor wants law change to snare more companies

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top fraud prosecutor said on Monday the law must be changed if critics want to see more companies in court for misconduct.

Serious Fraud Office Director David Green said he was constantly being compared unfavorably with U.S. enforcement agencies, which prosecute far more companies for fraud.

The SFO faces a much higher burden of proof than U.S. agencies, having to show a company's board is complicit.

"The email trail has a habit of drying up at the middle management level," Green told an American Bar Association conference on white collar crime on Monday.

"If it is in the public interest for more corporate prosecutions, the test must be lowered."

Next year, Britain introduces U.S.-style plea bargaining deals known as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs), whereby a company is charged but the prosecution is suspended in return for a fine, compensation or other sanctions.

"If the prosecution of a corporate is so difficult as it is at the present without the change I propose, why should a corporate agree to enter a DPA at all?" Green said.

He said the SFO would not hesitate to prosecute even difficult cases, and that "blockbuster" funding reserves were on tap to pursue big cases such as the rigging of Libor, the benchmark London interbank offered rate, and others.

Green took up the reins in April 2012 and has introduced root and branch changes to repair damage to the SFO's reputation after bungled cases and failure to contain costs.

He welcomed the fact that leaks to the media from within the SFO appeared to have dried up, and said there was now a new trend of "individuals and corporates of interest to the SFO trying to spin their way to the result they desire by judicious use of the media".

"Attempted lobbying of the SFO by megaphone is a very stupid strategy for a corporate," he said.

Green said he would "recharge" the SFO and bring it to the top of its game as a specialist prosecutor:

"The SFO's problems are not over, but I am confident we are set firmly on an upward trajectory."

(The story has been filed again to change "judicial" to "judicious" in paragraph 10 quote.)

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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