Money that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has collected from deferred prosecution agreements would cover its running costs four times over.

The SFO's chief operating officer John Carroll told a conference that the SFO has brought in approximately £1.6 billion from the 12 deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) concluded since 2015. He added that this money - which goes to the Treasury - amounted to "more than four times" what it had cost to run the SFO over the past six years.

Under a DPA, a company that admits wrongdoing avoids prosecution if it agrees to meet certain conditions detailed in the agreement. But it is prosecuted if it fails to meet those conditions.

Mr Carroll added that DPAs were useful as they help companies learn how to improve their compliance procedures and avoid further problems. They also remove the need for the SFO to prosecute the company, which can be costly and time consuming.

But the use of them has been criticised because, in some cases where one has been agreed, the SFO has failed to use the facts in the DPA to secure convictions against individuals. In a case this year, SFO failures to disclose evidence led to the collapse of the prosecution of executives of outsourcing company Serco, which had concluded a DPA two years earlier.

But it is hardly surprising that the SFO believes in the value of DPAs. In July this year, the agency concluded DPAs with two unnamed UK limited companies for bribery offences and one with Amec Foster Wheeler Energy for bribery. These three DPAs brought in a total of more than £105 million. There can be little doubt that DPAs go some way to alleviating the pressure on the public purse.

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