Howard Godfrey Q.C. and Robert Fitt have succeeded in their bid to have their client’s convictions overturned in the Court of Appeal.
In 2021, after a lengthy trial at Southwark Crown Court, P.B. was convicted of being party to two conspiracies to corrupt and sentenced to 3 ½ years in custody. The charges arose from the SFO’s largest ever bribery investigation (the “Unaoil” case).
P.B. was the Middle East manager for a Dutch company based in Monaco that manufactured single point mooring buoys for the oil industry. P.B.’s company hired a broker, the US-based Unaoil Inc., to help it secure contracts with the government of Iraq at a time when there was a major push to expand Iraqi oil production following the fall of Saddam Hussein. The SFO alleged that Unaoil secured the contracts for P.B.’s company by bribery and that P.B. was party to conspiracies to corrupt Iraqi officials. The sums involved were vast, with one contract awarded to P.B.’s company being worth more than $57 million (US).
On 24th March 2022, the Court of Appeal quashed both of P.B.’s convictions. The SFO had failed to disclose details of “wholly inappropriate” contact between a “fixer” working for the family behind Unaoil and senior officials at the SFO – including the Director herself. At the appeal hearing, the SFO maintained that the documents would not have assisted P.B. if they had been provided. However, the Court of Appeal found that the material withheld from the Defence by the SFO was “unarguably” relevant to an important issue in P.B.’s case. The court accepted that P.B.’s defence at trial would have been conducted in a different way had the relevant evidence been properly disclosed by the SFO. The court was persuaded that the SFO’s disclosure failings meant that P.B.’s trial had not been fair and his convictions were therefore unsafe.
The client’s convictions were quashed and no retrial was ordered, meaning he was released from custody and free to return to his family.
The Attorney General has ordered an independent review of the SFO’s conduct of the Unaoil case, which is being led by the former DPP and High Court judge, Sir David Calvert-Smith.
Mr Fitt was instructed by Joseph Monson of Mary Monson Solicitors.