Second Unaoil conviction quashed in further blow to UK fraud office

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Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Lisa Osofsky speaks to Reuters in London, Britain, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

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  • Paul Bond conviction overturned -lawyer
  • Co-defendant Ziad Akle's conviction was quashed in December
  • Bond expected to be released from jail in evening -lawyer
  • We are disappointed, cooperating with review -SFO

LONDON, March 24 (Reuters) - A second man convicted in Britain over how oil contracts were secured in post-occupation Iraq has had his conviction overturned by a London court, further unravelling a blockbuster bribery case prosecuted by the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Paul Bond, 69, received a three-and-a-half-year jail sentence last March after an investigation into how Monaco-based oil consultancy Unaoil won contracts for Western clients in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. read more

But the former manager at Dutch energy services company SBM Offshore (SBMO.AS) launched an appeal after the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of his former co-defendant Ziad Akle, once a Unaoil manager for Iraq, in December. read more .

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"Today our own appeal was successful on the same grounds as Mr Akle's," said Joseph Kotrie-Monson, director of Mary Monson Solicitors, who represented Bond.

Pressure group Spotlight on Corruption said the SFO had been "very badly damaged" by the judgment, which comes after last year's dramatic collapse of a trial against former Serco (SRP.L) executives, over prisoner-tagging contracts, because of disclosure failures.

"What is at stake here is nothing less than the public's confidence, which has already been seriously undermined, in the SFO's ability to properly investigate the most serious cases of bribery and corruption and uphold justice," said Quinton Newcomb, head of commercial crime at law firm Fieldfisher.

The ruling piles more pressure on SFO director Lisa Osofsky one month after Attorney General Suella Braverman appointed former Director of Public Prosecutions and High Court judge David Calvert-Smith to lead a "forensic and robust" review into SFO failings in the case. read more

"We are disappointed by today's decision and are cooperating fully with ... (the) review," a SFO representative said.

When quashing Akle's conviction, senior judges said the SFO had refused to hand documents to the defence that showed "wholly inappropriate" contact between the agency and a U.S.-based fixer with vested interests, which had handicapped defence lawyers.

"We are grateful but not remotely surprised that Mr Bond's appeal has been successful on the basis of the material non disclosure of vital defence evidence indicating improper conduct by the SFO in this case," Kotrie-Monson said.

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Reporting by Kirstin Ridley in London Editing by Matthew Lewis

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