SFO to say if tycoon Tchenguiz is a suspect
LONDON (Reuters) - The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is up against a deadline on Monday to reveal whether real estate tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz is still a suspect in an investigation that has exposed deep flaws at the financial crime-fighting agency.
A senior judge has accused the SFO of "sheer incompetence" over a series of blunders in its probe of Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz, brothers who made vast fortunes in the property market before the 2008 financial crisis got them into trouble.
The flamboyant pair have drawn interest from the British press for years with their lavish parties and luxury lifestyle, giving the SFO's action against them guaranteed publicity.
The case stems from their complex dealings with the Icelandic bank Kaupthing, which loaned them 180 million pounds in March 2008 and collapsed seven months later under a mountain of debts. British retail depositors lost millions in the Kaupthing disaster.
During a judicial review in May of the SFO's investigation into Kaupthing and the Tchenguiz brothers, the agency's new director David Green said he was urgently reviewing Vincent Tchenguiz's status as a suspect. He set himself a deadline of 4 p.m. (4:00 p.m. British time) on June 18 to give his decision.
The SFO has admitted to a series of errors in its handling of the case, raising expectations that Vincent Tchenguiz may be let off the hook.
However, a probe is likely to continue into the relationship between Kaupthing and Robert Tchenguiz, who had sat on the board of the bank's largest shareholder, Icelandic firm Exista.
During the judicial review, a three-day hearing requested by the Tchenguiz brothers, judge John Thomas accused the SFO of failing to set out the case clearly and accurately when it applied for warrants to raid the brothers' homes and offices.
The SFO had already admitted that the warrants were obtained after information had been "miscast" to a judge, and the search warrant against Vincent Tchenguiz had been quashed.
The stakes are high for the brothers, who say the publicity around the March 2011 dawn raids on their homes and offices had inflicted lasting damage on their reputations and business.
But they may be even higher for the SFO, which faces an uncertain future at a time of drastic government cuts in public spending.
Green said this week he intended to refocus the SFO on big cases and on improving the quality of its work, leaving small-time fraud to other law enforcement agencies.
"Is the SFO here to stay? Yes, it is here to stay. Does it have to prove itself? Yes it does," Green told Reuters.
(Editing by David Holmes)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this