March 29, 2017 / 5:03 PM / 3 years ago

UK court dismisses Unaoil case against anti-fraud agency

LONDON, March 29 (Reuters) - The English High Court on Wednesday dismissed an attempt by oil and gas services group Unaoil and the wealthy Ahsani family to force the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to return or destroy material collected during raids in Monaco last year.

Unaoil, run by chairman Ata Ahsani and his sons Cyrus and Saman, alleged the SFO had relied on misstatements and omissions when it asked Monegasque authorities to raid properties, seize material and arrest the men for questioning.

The SFO, which announced last July that it had launched a criminal investigation into Unaoil, its officers, employees and agents in connection with suspected bribery, corruption and money laundering, was awarded legal costs.

Unaoil Chairman Ata Ahsani, former chief executive Cyrus and chief operating officer Saman are British nationals of Iranian descent who live in Monaco.

The dispute centred on an SFO Letter of Request (LOR) sent to authorities in Monaco on March 23, 2016, in which the UK agency asked for immediate assistance with its investigation.

The Unaoil holding company, its Monaco subsidiary and the three men argued that the SFO’s letter was unlawful, partly because it failed to disclose key information and because it was “a fishing expedition” - impermissibly unspecific.

The judges agreed that the letter could have been better expressed. But they concluded that “various challenges to the LOR all fail and must be dismissed”.

“We are disappointed the High Court found that the standards of disclosure for foreign requests should not be closer to the obligations of candour required for domestic search and seizure applications,” Unaoil said in a statement.

“...The consequences of the SFO’s raid in Monaco continue to have a deleterious impact on our business. We shall continue to assert our legal right and we are confident that once this investigation is concluded we will be cleared of all wrongdoing.”

According to extracts from the letter, which were quoted in the judgment, the SFO asked for urgent assistance because there was a danger that relevant evidence could be destroyed.

Six days later, authorities in Monaco raided the Unaoil office and the Ahsani homes, seizing documents, computers and other property, and arresting the three Ahsani men for questioning.

The SFO has not filed criminal charges against the company or the men.

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley, editing by David Evans

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