London Court of Appeal dismisses conviction of former Unaoil executive

A London Court of Appeal overturned the bribery conviction of a former director of the Unaoil group after finding that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office had committed a ‘serious breach’ by refusing to provide evidence which would have caused him helped at the trial.

The move is a setback for the SFO, which last year secured the conviction of Ziad Akle for plotting to bribe Iraqi officials for oil contracts, despite questions surrounding the agency’s interactions with a private investigator. and former US Drug Enforcement Administration officer.

In its judgment quashing the conviction, the London Court of Appeal sharply criticized the SFO for its dealings with David Tinsley, founder and chairman of the private investigative firm 5 Stones Intelligence. The court said Mr. Akle’s case had been “significantly handicapped” by the SFO’s failure to disclose documents detailing his interactions with the private investigator.

“This failure was particularly unfortunate given that some of the documents had obvious potential to embarrass the SFO in their pursuit of this case,” the appeals court said.

The court on Friday dismissed an SFO request for a retrial of Mr. Akle.

A lawyer for Mr. Akle did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the SFO said it is currently reviewing the court ruling.

Last year, the SFO launched a review of its relationship with Mr. Tinsley, who between September 2018 and July 2019 engaged in a series of interactions with senior SFO officials, including personally meeting with his director, Lisa Osofsky, as part of the agency’s mission. The Unaoil case, according to emails, transcripts and other documents cited by the appeals court.

At the time, Mr Tinsley was hired to work for Ata Ahsani and his sons Cyrus and Saman, who collectively owned and controlled the Monaco-based oil services company at the heart of the affair. In his meetings and communications with the SFO, Tinsley said he could help the agency secure guilty pleas from Mr. Akle, a former Iraqi land official for Unaoil, and Basil al Jarah, a other person charged in the case.

According to the appeals court, Mr. Tinsley was a “faker” seeking to negotiate a deal between the Ahsani, the SFO and the United States, which were both seeking to prosecute the Ahsani.

Prior to his trial, Mr Akle argued that the SFO’s dealings with Mr Tinsley violated his right to a fair trial and said Mr Tinsley had urged him and Mr al Jarah to plead guilty. Mr Akle also sought to use documents detailing Mr Tinsley’s interactions with the SFO to prevent him from presenting evidence of the conviction of Mr al Jarah, who in 2019 pleaded guilty to the agency’s charges.

Judge Martin Beddoe, who oversaw Mr. Akle’s trial, rejected these arguments. Although the judge admitted that he may not have the full picture, he said there was no evidence that the SFO gave Mr. Tinsley sensitive information, or that Mr. Akle undermined his own cause by virtue of his contact with Mr. Tinsley.

The Court of Appeal later ordered the SFO to turn over evidence related to Mr. Tinsley’s interactions with the agency. On Friday, the court found that the documents “make it very clear why it was grossly inappropriate for the SFO to have dealings with Tinsley” in relation to the cases against Messrs. Akle et al Jarah.

“Despite all his talk about the desire to achieve an outcome that would be beneficial to everyone, Tinsley was obviously focused on pursuing a course that was in the best interest of the Ahsani, including delivering a plea package of others who would encourage the OFS to abandon any idea of ​​prosecuting one of the Ahsani in this country, ”the court declared.

Mr Tinsley did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. However, he previously said there was nothing improper about his dealings with the SFO and MM. Akle et al Jarah.

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The SFO subsequently dropped its lawsuits against the Ahsani, according to the appeals court, following Italy’s decision to extradite Saman Ahsani to the United States instead of the United Kingdom. chief executive, eventually struck plea deals with U.S. prosecutors in March 2019 accusing them of conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an anti-corruption law. The two brothers are still awaiting their sentencing in the United States

Ata Ahsani paid a fine of $ 2.25 million and was not the subject of any further action, according to the appeals court.

It is not known what implications the appeals court ruling might have for Mr. al Jarah.

In addition to MM. Akle et al Jarah, the SFO indicted Stephen Whiteley, former vice chairman of Dutch oil company SBM Offshore NV who also worked as Unaoil’s territory manager for Iraq, and Paul Bond, former sales manager senior for Unaoil’s client. SBM Offshore.

The two men were tried alongside Mr. Akle. Mr Whiteley was convicted on one count of conspiring to make corrupt payments and sentenced to three years in prison.

A jury was initially unable to reach a verdict on Mr Bond, but he was later retried, convicted and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

On Friday, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal from Mr Bond, who had argued his sentence was excessive.

Write to Dylan Tokar at [email protected]

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