Author: Niall Hearty 1 April 2022
Failures by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) led to a second man’s conviction being quashed in a high-profile bribery case.
In March 2021, Paul Bond was jailed for three and a half years following an SFO investigation into how Monaco-based oil consultancy Unaoil won contracts for its clients in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
But the Court of Appeal ruled that the conviction of Bond, who was a former manager at Dutch energy services company SBM Offshore, should be set aside due to the SFO’s failure to disclose evidence. The ruling came three months after the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Bond’s former co-defendant, former Unaoil manager Ziad Akle, for the same reason. It means that half of the four convictions that the SFO secured in this investigation - which involved allegations of payments totalling more than $17 million - have now been quashed.
This latest decision led the pressure group Spotlight on Corruption to say that the SFO had been very badly damaged by the judgment, as it followed the collapse of the 2021 fraud trial of former Serco executives. That trial collapse was also due to disclosure failures.
The possibility of a prosecuting agency failing to disclose evidence in a trial was one of the reasons given for the implementation of the Criminal Procedural and Investigations Act in 1996 (CPIA). CPIA’s arrival followed a number of high-profile miscarriages of justice dating back to the 1970’s. For convictions in major cases, like that of Paul Bond, to be set aside due to disclosure failures seems wholly avoidable.
This latest blow to the SFO comes during a difficult period for the agency. There is a review of the SFO’s disclosure failings in the Akle case being conducted by former High Court judge and ex-director of public prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith. SFO Director Lisa Osofsky was criticised for being less than transparent and helpful when she appeared to answer questions before the parliamentary Justice Select Committee, just days after the quashing of Bond’s conviction.
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