UK fraud agency faces investigation after court ruling denies defendant’s fair trial

The UK government’s most senior law official has opened an investigation into the Serious Fraud Office’s handling of a bribery case after a court ruled that the anti-corruption agency had turned away a former director. Convicted oil and gas operators have the right to a fair trial.

Attorney General Suella Braverman’s intervention follows a decision by the Court of Appeals to quash the conviction of Ziad Akle, a former executive at Unaoil, an oil and gas consulting firm, who was sentenced to five years in prison. years in prison last year. . The court found Akle “did not have a fair trial” after the SFO “did not have the right to plead”.

The court ruling and Braverman’s intervention will bring attention to Lisa Osofsky, the director of the anti-corruption agency, who has come under pressure after being strongly criticized by a judge over her handling of the case. during Akle’s trial last year.

After the judgment of the trial judge, the agency announced an independent investigation into its handling of the case but adjourned until after appeal. On Friday night, the agency said that investigation would be replaced by the one notified by the attorney general and that it would cooperate fully.

In a statement, Braverman said she was “deeply concerned” by the ruling and would “urgently discuss the implications with the director of the Serious Fraud Office.” The Attorney General is responsible for appointing the director of the SFO. The agency declined to comment on Osofsky’s views.

In a scathing ruling, the SFO was indicted by three appeals judges for allowing David Tinsley, a Miami-based investigator to represent the Unaoil founding family, at the center of the bribery investigation. of the agency, being embroiled in his case.

Osofsky and other SFO colleagues met and exchanged messages with Tinsley, who was acting for the Ahsani family, during the Unaoil investigation. Tinsley told Osofsky and the SFO that he was able to convince Akle and Basil Al-Jarah, another suspect, whom he did not represent, to plead guilty in exchange for a lenient settlement for his client.

US prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel investigation into Unaoil, finally guaranteed a bargain with brothers Saman and Cyrus Ahsani, in 2019. Their father, Ata Ahsani, paid a $2.25 million fine to U.S. authorities and did not have to take further action, according to Tuesday’s ruling. Six.

The judges said: “Tinsley was the last person the SFO should have allowed or caused, taking on the role of trying to persuade [Akle and Basil Al-Jarah] Admit. ”

They can understand why Osofsky “may be willing to have the first meeting with Tinsley,” but “simply [did] do not understand” how she and her SFO colleagues saw fit to let him be drawn into the Akle case.

The SFO has also withheld evidence of their meetings and phone calls with Tinsley, according to the court. According to the ruling, there was “a substantial failure to disclose that was substantially detrimental to the defense”.

Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office
The ruling increases the pressure on Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office © Charlie Bibby / FT

The judges ruled the agency’s “failure” to provide details to Akle’s legal team about its contacts with Tinsley was “a serious failure by the SFO to comply with its obligations.” although they do not believe there was an intentional cover-up. They added that the failure was “particularly regrettable because some of the documents clearly have the potential to embarrass the SFO”. The agency declined the opportunity to try Akle again.

Campaigners have called for a public inquiry into the events. “This is a serious setback for the SFO,” said anti-corruption group Spotlight on corruption, adding that “must lead to an independent and judge-led review immediately.” about what happened and who is responsible.”

One of Akle’s legal team, Jonathan Pickworth, called for Osofsky’s resignation in a statement, describing her position as “no longer viable”.

The judges dismissed the other appellant, Paul Bond, a former sales manager at SBM Offshore, one of Unaoil’s clients, from leaving to appeal his conviction. He was one of three people convicted along with Akle. His lawyers said they plan to file an appeal against his conviction following Friday’s ruling. UK fraud agency faces investigation after court ruling denies defendant’s fair trial

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