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UK launches 'forensic' probe of fraud agency after Unaoil failings

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By Reuters
UK fraud agency faces "forensic" probe after Unaoil failings
UK fraud agency faces "forensic" probe after Unaoil failings   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON -A former senior judge will lead a “forensic and robust” review into failings at the UK Serious Fraud Office during a high-profile bribery case, Britain’s Attorney General said on Wednesday, piling pressure on SFO director Lisa Osofsky.

Attorney General Suella Braverman has appointed former Director of Public Prosecutions and High Court judge David Calvert-Smith to lead the probe, which one London lawyer said would be critical to the SFO’s future.

The SFO said it welcomed Calvert-Smith’s appointment and would cooperate fully with the review, which is expected to run until end-May.

Braverman announced a planned SFO review https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/conviction-former-unaoil-executive-quashed-sharp-blow-uks-sfo-2021-12-10 last December after the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of a former executive at energy consultancy Unaoil, criticising the SFO for disclosure failures that it said undermined his right to a fair trial.

Senior judges said the SFO had refused to hand documents to the defence that showed “wholly inappropriate” contact between the agency and a U.S.-based fixer with vested interests, which had hindered defence lawyers.

A co-defendant jailed in the case has also lodged an appeal against his conviction, threatening further to undermine the hard fought-for prosecution.

“We must ensure lessons are learned so that the failings we saw in the Unaoil case can never happen again,” Braverman said in a statement on Wednesday.

She said the review would examine what happened and why – and what changes are necessary to address the failings, as well as any wider problems relating to SFO policies, practices, procedures or culture.

Aziz Rahman, a partner at law firm Rahman Ravelli, said “the review itself will be crucial to the future of the SFO”, adding that he expected departures if it was very critical.

Braverman told a parliamentary select committee last month she had confidence in Osofsky, noting that the agency was one of the few to send money back to taxpayers.

“Under her watch there have been some significant and high profile wins which were not easily gained,” she said.

Since Osofsky began a five-year term in 2018, the SFO has sealed eight Deferred Prosecution Agreements – court-approved settlements that have drawn a line under allegations of corporate wrongdoing – that have raised more than one billion pounds ($1.35 billion) for stretched state coffers.

Lawmakers, however, have noted that money laundering costs Britain an estimated 100 billion pounds annually, with another 190 billion lost to fraud, while prosecutions have fallen.

The SFO, which reports to the Attorney General’s Office, has faced repeated attempts by politicians to roll it into a broader crime-fighting body. In a report this month, lawmakers criticised Britain’s bewildering number of agencies trying to tackle economic crime.