By Ian Brodie and Reuters
London’s Court of Appeal on Thursday quashed a third conviction in the long-running Unaoil case, which turned on how oil contracts were secured in post-occupation Iraq involving Monaco-based Unaoil, run by the Ahsani family.
Failings at Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) were also in the spotlight on Thursday as a government-ordered review laid bare the agency’s mistakes in the high-profile bribery case as a London court simultaneously quashed a third criminal conviction.
Former High Court judge David Calvert-Smith, appointed to review the agency after its Unaoil bribery case started unravelling last year, said serious problems at the top of the SFO must never be allowed to reoccur.
Piling fresh pressure on SFO Director Lisa Osofsky, they included a failure to properly record meetings, the use of personal mobile phones, disclosure failures and distrust between senior management and the case team, amplified by the impression that a U.S. fixer had the “seal of approval” from the director.
“There is … a category of decisions and events that, in hindsight, can be seen to have caused problems which should be clearly managed and not repeated in the future,” Calvert-Smith said.
In what was described as a “grim day” for the SFO by Susan Hawley, executive director at pressure group Spotlight on Corruption, a second review into last year’s collapse of a trial of former Serco executives over prisoner-tagging contracts after disclosure errors was published simultaneously.
Osofsky said the reviews made a “sobering read”. But she added: “I am determined to ensure these reviews help us to move forward with clarity and confidence.”
Attorney General Suella Braverman ordered the review after a London court overturned the first Unaoil conviction last year. Senior judges ruled that disclosure failures and “wholly inappropriate” contact between top SFO officers and an American fixer had rendered the trial unfair.
Meanwhile, Aziz Rahman, a senior partner at law firm Rahman Ravelli, said it remained to be seen whether the report’s conclusions were damaging enough to lead to structural change at the agency.
(Reporting for Reuters by Kirstin Ridley Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Potter)
FILE PHOTO: A sign is displayed in an unmarked Serious Fraud Office vehicle parked outside a building, in Mayfair, central London March 9, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
EDITOR’S NOTE: Cyrus and Saman Ahsani agreed a plea deal with the US authorities in 2019, the details of which are not known. Currently free on bond, they are due to be sentenced in the US during this year, previous sentencing hearings having been postponed.