SFO’s legal bill for Tchenguiz investigation hits £1.3m

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) spent more than £1.3m in legal costs on its doomed investigation of the Tchenguiz brothers.

The regulator partially responded to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from The Lawyer to reveal that it spent £417,000 on counsel over the last four financial years.

SFO director David Green, who joined the agency last April (16 December 2011), has been represented by Blackstone Chambers’ James Eadie QC, QEB Hollis Whiteman’s Mark Ellison QC, Allison Clare of 18 Red Lion Court and Ben Watson of 3 Raymond Buildings in several hearings against businessmen brothers Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz.

The agency said a further £729,000 was paid to ‘other contractors’ out of the legal budget concerning the same investigation.

The figures include the costs of the initial investigation into the collapse of the Kaupthing bank in 2008 and the inquiry and arrest of Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz in dawn raids in March 2011 (10 March 2011). It also includes the costs of legal representation at the judicial review into the failed investigation (31 July 2012).

However, the legal spend does not include the estimated £3m that the SFO was ordered to pay to cover the cost of the judicial review of the SFO case brought by the brothers (4 December 2012).

Debevoise & Plimpton’s Peter Goldsmith QC, Matrix Chambers’ Ben Emmerson QC and Cloth Fair Chambers’ Jonathan Barnard, were instructed by WilmerHale partner Stephen Pollard for Vincent Tchenguiz.

Robert Tchenguiz, meanwhile, was represented by former director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald QC of Matrix Chambers, fellow Matrix silk Alex Bailin QC and Cloth Fair’s Clare Sibson, instructed by BCL Burton Copeland partners Ian Burton and Richard Sallybanks.

Rawlinson & Hunter Trustees – the trustees of the Tchenguiz Family Trust – were represented by Stephenson Harwood partner Sean Jeffrey. They instructed Great James Street head of chambers Alun Jones QC and 3 Raymond Buildings silk Hugo Keith QC for the judicial review proceedings.

The agency is now facing a £200m damages claim from Vincent Tchenguiz for alleged damage to his business portfolio due to the unlawful entry search and seizures at his Consensus Business Group offices, his home, his arrest and the investigation (20 June 2012).

The regulator has turned to 5 Essex Court silk Jeremy Johnson QC to defend the claim – scheduled for an eight-week trial in January 2014.

According to the SFO’s latest accounts, the average cost of an investigation in 2010-11 was £910,000. In the same 12-month period, its expenditure was £36m.

A spokesman for the SFO said: “By definition SFO cases are substantial, complex and take time to arrive at a conclusion. Large cases in particular will attract certain levels of costs, which is an inevitable aspect of the top-end fraud business we’re in.

“Even so, we tightly husband resources and monitor costs in a prudential approach to management of our budget.”