December 13, 2021

Unaoil-related conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal

On December 10, 2021, the Court of Appeal for England and Wales (Criminal Division) in London quashed Ziad Akle’s conviction on corruption charges.  The criminal investigation began in July 2016, and led to conspiracy charges against Akle and Paul Bond, in which the Serious Fraud Office alleged that the two men had been involved in the payment of bribes to officials in the South Oil Company, an Iraqi state-run company responsible for developing Iraq’s post-war oil exporting industry.  Akle was employed by Unaoil as territory manager for Iraq during the relevant period, and Bond was the senior sales manager for Single Buoy Moorings Inc.

Akle was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments, contrary to s.1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, and was sentenced to concurrent terms of five years’ imprisonment.  Bond was tried inconclusively, and on retrial was convicted on one count of conspiracy to give corrupt payments, and one count of conspiracy to give corrupt payments to public officials.  He was sentenced to concurrent terms of three and a half years in prison. Stephen Whitely, employed with Bond by SBM, was charged together with Akle and Bond, and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in July 2020 after being found guilty of one offense of conspiracy to give corrupt payments. 

Several co-conspirators were named in the Akle-Bond-Whitely indictment, including Basil Al Jarah, former partner for Unaoil in Iraq.  Based in Monaco, Unaoil provides services to Middle Eastern oil producers.  The company and its employees are alleged to have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to influence the terms, conditions and grant of oil services contracts in Iraq.

Al Jarah pleaded guilty in July 2019 to five counts of conspiracy to give corrupt payments.  In October 2020 he was sentenced to a reduced sentence following an agreement with the Serious Fraud Office.  During the pre-trial period, the SFO served several Disclosure Management Documents, which included schedules summarizing the contents of unused documents.  The SFO declined to provide copies of the summarized documents to Akle’s attorneys.  The documents included information about the SFO’s contacts with David Tinsley, the owner of an investigative company in the United States that provided services to the three brothers who owned Unaoil and their attorney during the SFO’s investigation.

Before his trial, Akle expressed his intention to oppose the introduction of evidence about Al Jarah’s guilty plea on the grounds that it was brought about through improper means, largely due to the SFO.  To support this contention, Akle requested specific disclosures.  In its response, the SFO denied having been a party to discussions with Tinsley, and said that they were not in possession of materials supporting Akle’s theory.

Akle appealed his conviction and his sentence, claiming abuse of process, asserting that Al Jarah’s guilty plea was not admissible in evidence and that evidence relating to Tinsley should not have been excluded.  In addition, Akle claimed that the court had erred in applying the Bribery Act guideline and in other aspects of its assessment.  Noting that the withheld documents were relevant to both Akley’s claim of abuse of process and the admission or exclusion of evidence, the court quashed Akle’s conviction and declined to order a retrial.  At the same time, the court reprimanded the SFO, saying, “the underlying documents illustrate very clearly why it was wholly inappropriate for the SFO to have any dealings with Tinsley in relation to the pleas of [al Jarah] and Akle,” concluding, “we are satisfied that there was a material failure of disclosure which significantly handicapped the defence in arguing that evidence of [al Jarah’s] convictions should be excluded pursuant to section 78 of [the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984].”

The court also considered, and refused, a renewed application by Paul Bond for leave to appeal his sentence.

Court of Appeal Decision