Judge Criticises Director of the SFO For ‘Flattering’ Text Messages

According to reports, a private investigator attempted to persuade the SFO to go easy on his clients.

Credit: Louisa Svensson / Alamy Stock Photo
Credit: Louisa Svensson / Alamy Stock Photo
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LONDON (WithinTheLaw) - Britain’s most senior anti-bribery prosecutor has been criticised by a judge for flattering text messages she received from a private investigator, who was looking for more favourable sentences for his clients, according to a report in the Guardian

Lisa Osofsky, director of the Serious Fraud Office, received the texts from David Tinsley, a private investigator based in Florida, as part of the SFO’s investigation into a worldwide bribery scheme. 

According to the judge Martin Beddoe, Osofsky should not have had any contact with the investigator as he did not have a legal role in the case. He also criticised Osofsky for encouraging Tinsley in pressing his clients to admit their involvement in the scheme.

Osofsky, who has been director of the SFO for two years after a previous stint at the FBI, found her role coming under scrutiny when the defendants attempted to use her conduct to have the prosecution dismissed. The move was unsuccessful.

The two businessmen were convicted of conspiring to make corrupt payments in order to win huge business contracts in the Iraqi oil industry. The SFO had spent five years investigating the claims that Monaco based consultancy Unaoil had paid bribes around the world to secure contracts. 

In making the claim for dismissal, a member of the Jim Sturman QC, who was acting for one of the defendants, Unaoil’s territory manager for Iraq Ziad Akle, argued that Tinsley and the SFO had flouted guidelines designed to ensure proper conduct. 

The exchanges are extensive and detailed. In one message Tinsley texts Osofsky an article carrying the message ‘mercy means valuing relationships over the rules’. She replied that she found the article ‘inspiring’.  

In another message, Tinsley wrote after a meeting: “We are moving to a good solution … you’re the bomb.” In reply, she said a colleague had ‘joined the DT fan club’. She was, she said, ‘super honoured’ that Tinsley was ‘coming our way’ and that they worked well together and ‘would continue to do so’. 

Sturman described the texts as those of a teenager who had found a new best friend. 

Tinsley had been hired by the owners of Unaoil after American prosecutors and the SFO began their investigation. While working for them, Sturman said, Tinsley had approached the suspects behind the backs of their lawyers and attempted to ‘browbeat’ them into pleading guilty to the corruption charges. He included false promises that they would be treated leniently. Judge Beddoe dismissed the claim but upheld part of the criticism against the SFO. 

Beddoe stated that Tinsley “was not hesitant in flattering Ms. Osofsky and talking up her talents, and unfortunately, Ms. Osofsky made herself vulnerable to them.” However, he ruled that the SFO’s dealings with Tinsley had not affected Akle during the investigation and did not break any rules. 

Responding to the ruling, the SFO has said it is investigating an inquiry to review the contacts between the Osofsky and Tinsley to see what lessons it could learn.

(Written by Tom Cropper, Edited by Klaudia Fior)

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