The future of the Serious Fraud Office is up for debate again as part of the Government's justice sector review, ministers have confirmed.
Weekend Herald interviews with senior commercial and legal figures canvassed concerns over a declining number of prosecutions launched by the office, driven by what was claimed to be a conservative, risk-minimising approach under the tenure of director Julie Read.
Critics claimed many of the prosecutions the SFO had taken targeted relatively small offending worth less than $1 million.
According to annual reports filed by the SFO over the past decade, in the five years prior to Read's appointment the office launched an average of 15 new prosecutions every year.
In the five years since this has dropped 40 per cent to an average of nine.
Stuart Nash, minister responsible for the Serious Fraud Office, said he had been aware of such complaints. "I was approached by someone, who will remain nameless, who was concerned about the performance of the SFO, and asked me to look at the stats on prosecutions."
Nash said he had discussed the matter with Read, and was satisfied with her explanation that "cases are bubbling away, and the level of investigations taking place are about the same as they were before".
But the minister did emphasise the entire justice sector was under review, the SFO was part of this, and didn't dismiss the possibility the office could be folded - as has been mooted in the past - into the Police or Financial Markets Authority.
"Labour had a look at this last term, National had a look at it too," he said. "Nothing is off the table ... but whether it's on the table is still to be determined."
A possible closure of the office alarmed the Opposition, with National Party opposition spokesman for the SFO Chris Bishop signalling such a move would face challenge in Parliament.
"The SFO does a good job and specialises in sophisticated and complex fraud. We're opposed to folding the office into police," he said.
The SFO has a set of unique powers, above those available to Police, including the ability to issue document production notices unable to be challenged in the courts, and demand interviews with subjects who are unable to claim a right to silence.