In the Conservative Party manifesto, released on Thursday, which set out her campaign pledges for the UK general election on 8 June, May said she would fold the organisation into the National Crime Agency (NCA).
It follows a string of clashes between the SFO and May, who as home secretary in David Cameron’s government had argued that it should be part of the NCA, which fights organised crime.
However, the move has been slammed by lawyers and anti-corruption groups who argue it could will seriously damage the UK’s credibility in tackling white collar crime.
Costa Rica scam
Earlier this year, the SFO said it has opened a criminal investigation into an alleged fraudulent scheme which claimed to be investing in a forestry plantation in Costa Rica.
The scam conned £50m (€57.6m, $60.9m) out of 3,000 UK investors, who ploughed a minimum of £18,000 each into the scheme.
David Corker, a partner at law firm Corker Binning, said: "The NCA has not yet proved its effectiveness and there is a great danger that the fight against fraud would be compromised if the SFO’s work was absorbed into its broad remit."
Stephen Parkinson, a partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, said it was "dreadful news".
“I have two main concerns. Firstly, that there will be organisational paralysis; people will leave the SFO in droves so it will lose expertise. Secondly, I fear momentum will be lost and there will be a failure to open cases that should be taken up,” he said.
Michael Potts, managing partner of Byrne and Partners, said: “It is no surprise that the drive to abolish the SFO has resurfaced in the Tory manifesto. Theresa May has repeatedly proposed folding its business into the NCA. In that respect, who remembers the Assets Recovery Agency that was abolished and folded into SOCA and then the NCA?
“The real risk of such an abolition is that it will cause the momentum of the proper prosecution of serious fraud and corruption/bribery to stall just when the SFO is getting some traction.”