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SFO Finger of Suspicion Enough to Threaten Company’s Solvency

Public awareness of corruption accusations, whether true or false, can be enough to undermine valuable trading positions and that was said to be so in the case of one company that faced a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation in respect of its dealings in a troubled African state.

The company vehemently denied claims that it had made corrupt payments to state officialdom in order to achieve commercial advantages, in breach of the Bribery Act 2010. It said that it could compellingly rebut any suggestion of impropriety, but the fact that the allegations had been made had been leaked into the public domain.

In asking the High Court to call a halt to the investigation, the company argued that public knowledge of its existence was putting off potential investors and creating a risk of insolvency. Its lawyers asserted that the investigation was being dragged out unnecessarily and that posthumous exoneration would provide scant comfort.

In refusing to intervene, however, the Court found that the SFO had approached the investigation proportionately and with proper regard to the facts. Requiring the SFO to terminate its inquiries would blur the roles of the Court and the investigator in a remarkable and unwarranted manner. The SFO had taken the exceptional course of writing to the company, stating that, whilst the investigation was continuing, it had thus far uncovered no sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution.