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SFO v Unaoil - Victory in World's Biggest Bribery Case

Not guilty verdict - client exonerated
24 March, 2022
Fraud
Business Crime

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Case study summary

Our client was accused of paying bribes for contracts to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure. This case was reported as the World’s Biggest Bribe Scandal. Convictions were finally overturned by the Court of Appeal after we showed that the SFO did not disclose key evidence at trial.

Case study

Our client was Paul Bond, a British national living in France. He had previously been a woodwork teacher in a comprehensive secondary school in England. He had left the UK around 35 years before having met and married the school's French language assistant.

He started at SBM, a company making and selling offshore oil buoys. He drew the diagrams in the spare parts manuals, and over the next 30 years worked his way up to selling spare parts to the company's customers in different countries. When the company decided to bid for the post-invasion Iraq oil development project, our client was reluctant to be involved. He was ordered by his employer to not only deal with the Iraqi bid himself, but even go to Iraq in person to see the signing of the contract. His company told him to use Unaoil, an agent who dealt with governments on behalf of oil industry companies. Unaoil was then accused of paying bribes on behalf of its clients, including our client's employer SBM.

Our client was lumped in with three Unaoil executives as someone who was part of the bribery. He had never received any commission for his work at SBM, and never received a manager's salary, but found himself in the middle of a $700m bribery case.

Meanwhile, the head of the SFO began to have secret meetings with an ex-US law enforcement agent who offered to approach the defendants in this case that her office was prosecuting to get them to plead guilty. She was aware that these approaches would be without the defendants' lawyers present - which was certainly improper. The SFO then told the jury in our client's trial that there had been convictions for conspiracy already, and this made it more likely our client was guilty. None of the evidence of how the SFO got their convictions had been disclosed to the defence and our client was convicted.

The Court of Appeal eventually demanded that the SFO provide the original notes of their knowledge of the illegitimate approaches made to the other defendants.

We appealed on the basis that the true records of the SFO's knowledge of the unethical behaviour meant that all the convictions that the jury had told about were suspect. The Court of Appeal agreed, and without waiting to provide a written judgment, allowed our client's appeal in open court.

This case lasted from 2017 until 2022, and much of it turned out to be an unfair fight, stacked against our client until victory finally came. It was an example of determination paying off and the need to keep fighting to the end.

After the case, Mr Bond was able to go back to his family in France and continue his retirement in peace.

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