As reported in today's Gazette, the Attorney General, Suella Baverman QC has appointed Sir David Calvert-Smith to lead the Independent review into the Serious Fraud Office's (SFO) handling of the Unaoil case.
On 10 December 2021, the Court of Appeal overturned Ziad Akle's conviction for two counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments in order to influence the terms and allocation of crude oil export contracts in Iraq, to the advantage of Unaoil and its clients. Mr Akle was sentenced to five years' imprisonment.
In terms of disclosure obligations, the Court of Appeal remarked that there "was a serious failure by the SFO to comply with their duty… neither the defence nor the judge had anything like the full picture". The Court was also critical of the unorthodox practices conducted by the most senior management of SFO, in engaging with a “fixer”. The SFO's failings meant that Mr Akle did not have a fair trial.
As well as looking at what went wrong in the Unaoil case and what changes are needed at the SFO to ensure that the failings identified by the Court of Appeal cannot happen again, the Independent review will look at the SFO’s policies, practices, procedures, and related culture.
The SFO is subject to statutory disclosure obligations set out in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 ( CPIA) that came into force almost 25 years ago. It begs the question, how can an organisation dedicated to tackling complex fraud, bribery and corruption that is both investigator and prosecutor, not understand the statutory disclosure regime? It should not have to be the case that "..lessons are learned...".
A report is to be submitted at the end of May 2022.
The Serious Fraud Office’s disclosure failings at the trial of a former oil executive, whose conviction for bribery was overturned by the Court of Appeal, will be probed by a former High Court judge.