Phillipa Williamson, former Chief of the Serious Fraud Office, received up to £420,000 in “irregular” severance and pension payments from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), according to the national spending watchdog.
Williamson – who earned an annual salary of £125,000 – unexpectedly took voluntary redundancy in April, negotiating a “special severance payment” of £15,000 and a £407,000 pension plan.
Under Whitehall regulations, the pension scheme should have been authorised by the Cabinet Office, while the size of the severance package warranted approval from the Treasury.
The National Audit Office (NAO) ruled yesterday that the pension costs had not been authorised by the Cabinet Office, nor had the severance payments been given approval by the Treasury.
“The SFO should have gained approval from the Cabinet Office for this (pension) payment, but there is no evidence that the approval was obtained and therefore the NAO has deemed the payment irregular” read the report.
“There is no evidence that due process was followed in instigating this voluntary redundancy” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office (NAO).
Williamson’s replacement, David Green, sought legal advice upon assuming office in April. He was told that the agreement was legally binding, forcing the SFO to issue the unauthorised payments.
The NAO report revealed that Green had since asked the Treasury Solicitors Office to conduct a full independent inquiry regarding the payments.
Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said she was “astonished” by the payments.
“The CEO and SFO sealed the terms of this sweetheart deal outside of official procedures”, she said.
“The SFO showed a total disregard for taxpayers’ money when they wrote out a five-figure cheque to the CEO and failed to provide valid justification for the payment”.
“My committee will want to see an immediate stop to unacceptable payments of this kind.”