Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Review of U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office Details Missteps in Unaoil Bribery Case

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An independent review of how the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office handled a bribery case linked to Unaoil Group that has led to three acquittals has shed light on gaps in the white-collar-crime prosecuting agency’s operations and culture.

The review was launched in February by the attorney general for England and Wales after an appeal court found serious missteps by the SFO in its case involving Unaoil, a Monaco-based oil-services company.

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A report on the review was made public on Thursday. A London appeal court also on Thursday overturned the bribery conviction of Stephen Whiteley, the third individual in the Unaoil case to have successfully appealed.

“This case has cast a dark cloud over Mr. Whiteley’s life for several years; it has been the catalyst for a series of health concerns, has caused immense financial strain and has weighed heavily on his partner and the rest of his family,” Sam Healey, a partner at JMW Solicitors LLP and lawyer for Mr. Whiteley, said in a statement.

The report on the review by David Calvert-Smith, a former director of public prosecutions and a High Court judge, highlighted issues it said the SFO must address because of the Unaoil case. The review found some failings in the case involved “cultural” issues within the SFO, such as noncompliant record-keeping, inadequate resourcing of the case and a lack of understanding of priorities between the case team and senior management.

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“No one working on the Unaoil case was in command of all of the moving parts in what was a large and complex case. No one person was able to understand the extent of the different aspects of the case and the risks that these posed,” the report said.

The report offered 11 recommendations, all of which the attorney general’s office and the SFO agreed with or accepted. They include developing a revised process for oversight of sensitive and high-risk cases and having a system to support and monitor resourcing across all cases.

SFO Director Lisa Osofsky said the agency was making a priority of implementing the recommendations and has a new senior leadership team that has invested in technology and started to overhaul the agency’s working practices and culture.

“The reviews are a sobering read for anyone who believes in the mission and purpose of the SFO, but from the outset we wanted to establish what happened in these two cases and use the findings to improve our performance,” she said in a statement.

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A London appeal court previously overturned bribery convictions of Paul Bond, a former sales manager for Dutch oil-services company SBM Offshore NV, and Ziad Akle, a former Iraq territory manager for Unaoil.

“The SFO is ultimately too important to the U.K.’s ability to fight big ticket fraud and corruption to be allowed to fail,” Susan Hawley, executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, a U.K. anticorruption group, said in a statement. “We need a huge reinvestment of the money the SFO brings into the public purse through fines and confiscation back into the agency to beef it up and ensure these failings aren’t repeated.”

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