Taking fraud seriously – the SFO faces new criticisms over Dahdaleh case

It’s no easy task being the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Fighting multi-million pound blockbuster litigation with an ever-decreasing budget is alarming.

But there’s no getting around the fact that things have not been going well for the agency, which has faced over £22m cuts over the last five years. Now new criticism over its “mismanagement” of a bribery case against billionaire Victor Dahdaleh has raised questions over how well it is coping.

The agency had accused the Canadian-British businessman of paying $67m in bribes to the former managers of Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) in order to secure billion-dollar business contracts.

Low budgets might well mean an inability to send out mandates to expensive law firms. But its decision to delegate its investigation to a group of lawyers acting for Dahdaleh’s opponent in a US case seemed odd.

Judge Loraine-Smith certainly thought so. He also slammed the SFO for calling as witnesses the two Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lawyers representing Alba in a US action and laid the blame at its door for their refusal to testify.

This will have an eerie familiarity for the SFO. In 2012 it was also rounded on for its failed investigation into the Tchenguiz brothers.

That trial continues and the costs of it are only increasing. It looks like something serious will have to happen to the fraud office if it is to win these mammoth cases.

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