The U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was dealt another blow Thursday after a second man convicted for bribery over how oil contracts were secured in Iraq had his conviction overturned because the agency failed to disclose vital evidence.
Paul Bond received a 42-month jail sentence in March 2021 following an investigation into how Monaco-based oil consultancy Unaoil won multimillion dollar contracts in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.
Bond, a former sales manager at Dutch energy services company SBM Offshore, launched an appeal after the U.K.’s Court of Appeal in December overturned the conviction of Ziad Akle, a former Iraq-based executive at Unaoil, over the SFO’s mishandling of the investigation.
The court at the time severely criticized the SFO for its failure to disclose key evidence and “wholly inappropriate” contact with a “fixer” who proposed a backroom deal where key managers would be prosecuted while Unaoil’s owners were left alone.
The SFO’s director, Lisa Osofsky, was singled out by judges for conducting meetings with third parties she should not have met and for her failure to keep records of her interactions. At the time, legal experts said her position was “untenable.”
Indeed, the SFO’s conduct in the case prompted a review by the attorney general that remains ongoing.
Regarding Thursday’s development, an SFO spokesperson said, “We are disappointed by today’s decision and are cooperating fully with the review.”
Helen Taylor, legal researcher at Spotlight on Corruption, said the quashing of a second Unaoil conviction “leaves the SFO very badly damaged” and “raises serious questions about the SFO’s ability to bring home successful prosecutions in blockbuster bribery cases.”
She added, “It’s vital the attorney general’s review is brought forward, that the findings are published in full, and that lessons are learned quickly. As the U.K.’s key enforcer against corporate criminality, the SFO is too important to be limping rather than sprinting.”
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