Third Unaoil corruption offender appeals in London against conviction

Lisa Osofsky, director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), speaks to Reuters in London, Britain March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

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  • Stephen Whiteley appeals his conviction
  • Convictions of co-defendants Akle and Bond already overturned
  • SFO review of Unaoil failures delayed for a month
  • The Attorney General will inform Parliament before July 21

LONDON, June 6 (Reuters) – A third man jailed in Britain for bribery over Iraq oil deals is appealing his conviction after two co-defendants had their guilty verdicts overturned in the prosecuted case by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

A lawyer for Stephen Whiteley, a 66-year-old former director of Monaco-based energy consultancy Unaoil, said on Monday he believed his client’s conviction was not safe given that the appeals court in London had reversed the other two decisions.

In December, the attorney general ordered a forensic review of SFO failings in the Unaoil case and a successful third appeal could put more pressure on SFO director Lisa Osofsky and reignite a debate on the future of the agency.

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The SFO, which combines investigative and prosecutorial powers, is being criticized for its handling of some high-profile cases, such as the failure of a trial of former Serco executives (SRP.L) due to disclosure failures .

“We will not stop fighting against serious fraud, bribery and corruption. Our investigation into Unaoil revealed the payment of 17 million dollars in bribes which were paid to win contracts worth $1.7 billion in Iraq. We are aware of Mr. Whiteley’s call and are considering our next steps,” the SFO said in a statement.

Whiteley, sentenced to three years in prison in 2020, was one of three men convicted by a jury after a four-year investigation into how Unaoil, once run by the prominent Ahsani family, helped major Western companies to winning energy projects in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa over two decades.

But in a blow to the SFO, the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions of Whiteley’s co-defendant, Ziad Akle, a former Unaoil executive, and that of Paul Bond, a former director of Dutch energy services firm SBM Offshore. (SBMO. LIKE). Read more

The lead judges said the SFO refused to turn over to the defense documents showing “totally inappropriate” contact between senior SFO officers and a US-based fixer with vested interests, and that this had bothered the defense attorneys.

“With Mr. Akle’s conviction, and now Mr. Bond’s, overturned due to the SFO’s refusal to disclose material to the defence, we also believe that Mr. Whiteley’s conviction is dangerous,” said Sam Healey, partner at JMW Solicitors, representing Whiteley.

Unaoil’s former Iraqi partner Basil Al Jarah is the fourth man jailed in the UK leg of a global investigation into Unaoil. He was sentenced to three years and four months in prison after pleading guilty in 2019 to corruption charges.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions and High Court Judge David Calvert-Smith, appointed by the Attorney General to lead the review of the SFO’s failings, had planned to deliver his report at the end of May. Read more

But the attorney general’s office said on Monday there would be a one-month delay and it now hoped to inform parliament of the findings and the government’s response by July 21.

Lawmakers have periodically called for the SFO to be integrated into a larger crime-fighting force.

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Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by David Clarke

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