SFO director David Green QC tipped for move to US firm as partners size up potential successors

Serious Fraud Office (SFO) director David Green QC has been tipped for a lucrative move to a US law firm when his leadership term at the regulator ends next year, according to City white-collar crime partners.

Green, who has led the SFO since 2012, is set to step down next April after being handed a two-year extension to his original four-year term last year. He has overseen a number of key successes during his tenure, including the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with Rolls-Royce earlier this year, which will see the company pay out £671m following a four-year bribery and corruption investigation.

This was followed by this April’s Tesco DPA – in which the company agreed to pay a £129m fine to avoid prosecution after overstating its profits in 2014 – and fraud charges brought this June against Barclays and four former executives over the bank’s capital-raising arrangements with Qatari investors during the financial crisis.

Despite this, the future of the SFO was called into question ahead of this year’s general election, when the Conservative Party manifesto pledged to merge the SFO into the National Crime Agency. However, this proposal was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, which was slimmed down in the wake of the Tories’ loss of an electoral majority.

Green’s experience at the SFO is likely to make him an attractive candidate for many US law firms, according to partners in the market, who say his skills would be in demand.

One criminal defence partner in a City firm said: “I think David would love to find himself a role at one of the big US firms to cash in on his years of service at the SFO. Clients around the world would be interested in seeing him on a white-collar team.”

This view is shared by Latham & Watkins criminal litigation partner Stuart Alford QC, who previously headed up the fraud division at the SFO under Green.

He added: “Those of us who have left the SFO over the last six or eight years have typically gone either to a US or UK magic circle firm, with most going to a US practice. I would think that would be the route he would choose, and of course there are now many more US firms with an appetite for this practice group in London.

“For the US firms, the model of the revolving door is very much part of the white-collar practitioner’s career. If you look at the US firms, nearly everybody who reaches partnership and leaders of their practice groups has had a career which is a mixture of private practice and a government role. Therefore, I think they are naturally open to people making the type of move that David is likely to contemplate.”

Another City white-collar crime partner said: “It is a fairly well-trodden path; corporate liability in the UK in criminal law terms has moved a long way, so there is great demand in the US for people who know how high-end, weighty matters are dealt with.”

Partners with links to the SFO are already predicting potential successors for Green. His replacement is set to take over the regulator during its ongoing fraud, bribery and corruption investigation into aerospace multinational Airbus, as well as pursuing the case against Barclays.

White & Case London white-collar crime head Jonathan Pickworth, whose practice acts for companies being investigated by the SFO, said: “I think they will look both internally and externally for a new director, as the government will feel obliged to do a search to get the person best suited to the job. The smart money is on Alun Milford, who is already general counsel at the SFO; a lot of people are talking about him being the next director.”

Milford, who has been GC at the SFO for more than five years after joining in 2012 from the Crown Prosecution Service, would provide continuity, according to multiple partners. Another name cited by partners is SFO joint head of bribery Matthew Wagstaff, but all said that should the replacement come from within the SFO, Milford is a more likely candidate.

Another name touted to succeed Green is Kirkland & Ellis litigation partner Satnam Tumani, who trained at the SFO and rose to lead the bribery and corruption division before moving to Kirkland in 2012, while Kingsley Napley criminal litigation head Stephen Parkinson, the former deputy head of the Attorney General’s Office, is described as having the “right profile for the role” by one criminal partner.

The Attorney General’s Office, which will appoint the SFO director, said: “We do not give a running commentary on recruitment,” while the SFO declined to comment.