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Court of Appeal overturns second Unaoil bribery conviction

News / / London

R v Paul Bond [2022] EWCA Crim 427
On 24 March 2022, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of a second man, Paul Bond, prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in relation to alleged wrongdoing by Unaoil. 

In July 2016, the SFO opened an investigation into the activities of Unaoil in connection with the alleged bribing of decision-makers to win crude oil export contracts in Iraq.  

Paul Bond, alongside other Unaoil employees, including Ziad Akle, was alleged to have paid bribes to influence the terms and allocation of contracts to the advantage of Unaoil and its clients.   

In February 2021, Paul Bond was found guilty on two counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments following a retrial of his case. He was sentenced to three and half years’ imprisonment on each count to run concurrently. The SFO had also secured convictions against three others, Basil Al Jarah, Stephen Whiteley and Ziad Akle.  

In December 2021, the Court of Appeal granted Ziad Akle leave to appeal, quashing the convictions and declining to order a retrial. The court, amongst several red flags, heavily criticised the SFO’s conduct, including the SFO’s failure to disclose key material and improperly providing David Tinsley, a retired US Drug Enforcement Agent, acting on behalf of the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the Unaoil group of companies, access to the SFO case team who ultimately engaged with him about the prospect of Akle and Al Jarah pleading guilty. 

We previously reported on the decision handed down by the Court of Appeal on 10 December 2021, in the matter of R v Akle & Anor [2021] EWCA Crim 1879. The landmark decision overturned the conviction of Unaoil employee Ziad Akle, and concluded that the SFO had unfairly failed to disclose vital evidence. The decision led to a wrath of criticism aimed at the SFO and Lisa Osofsky, the Director of the SFO, resulting in the Attorney General pledging a forensic and robust review of the SFO.

On 24 March 2022, the Court of Appeal granted Bond’s application for leave to appeal, quashing his convictions, reportedly based on the same grounds as Akle's case.

Comment 

The Court of Appeal’s decision is another damaging blow for the beleaguered SFO. It highlights once again the SFO’s difficult history in securing corporate or executive bribery convictions and their failure to understand what their disclosure obligations are. At the time of Bond’s conviction, the Director of the SFO said:

“The string of convictions in this case demonstrate the SFO’s determination to root out and prosecute corrupt practices in all corners of the globe working with law enforcement partners across the world”.

However, with two convictions now overturned and criticism not only of disclosure failures but of unorthodox practices in engaging with a “fixer”, this only serves to erode public confidence in the SFO’s ability to investigate and prosecute cases of bribery and corruption.  

Lawyers acting for Bond have said:

"We are grateful but not remotely surprised that Mr Bond's appeal has been successful on the basis of the material non-disclosure of vital defence evidence indicating improper conduct by the SFO in this case"

The ruling piles more pressure on Lisa Osofsky following the Attorney General’s appointment of former Director of Public Prosecutions and High Court Judge Sir David Calvert-Smith to lead a forensic and robust review into SFO failings in the case. 

Following the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn Bond’s conviction, an SFO spokesperson said: 

“We are disappointed by today’s decision and are co-operating fully with Sir David Calvert-Smith’s review”. 

The Attorney General’s review will focus on disclosure failings as well as contact with third parties. The review is due to conclude in May 2022.

Colette Kelly

Colette Kelly Partner, Criminal and Regulatory Solicitor

Waled Salih

Waled Salih Associate

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