Unaoil: The Aftermath

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office saw results in its prosecution of former executives — but the saga raised big questions over its effectiveness and relations with the US DOJ

July 2020

At one point, the Serious Fraud Office’s corruption probe into oil consultancy Unaoil was the largest investigation the UK white-collar prosecutor had undertaken to date, underwritten by millions of pounds in “blockbuster” government funding.

In June 2019, however, MLex was first to report that despite this high profile the SFO had effectively closed its three-year probe into the company and its owners, the Ahsani family, in a blow to its credibility for tackling international corruption. The SFO went on to mount a keystone prosecution of several individuals that it accused of conspiring to pay bribes to secure hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts in post-war Iraq.

Everything culminated in July 2020 as the SFO secured the convictions of two former Unaoil executives after a 10-week trial, in addition to a guilty plea from a third. After a string of failures for the SFO in the courts in recent years, the result was a rare chink of light — but the case also raised some serious questions about the agency’s effectiveness, about its relationship with its larger US counterpart, the Department of Justice, and even about the conduct of its head Lisa Osofsky.

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