SFO probe into Tchenguiz role at Kaupthing scrapped

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The Independent Online

The Serious Fraud Office has been embarrassingly forced to scrap its three-year investigation into fraud at the failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing.

The case has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds, but David Green, who took over as director of the SFO in April, was forced to halt the inquiry after he found "there is insufficient evidence to justify its continuation".

The focus of the investigation had been on the involvement of the property magnate brothers Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz in the collapse of the bank. The SFO's case centred on the fact that Robert Tchenguiz was a major shareholder in Kaupthing through an investment vehicle known as Exista.

His losses on stakes in companies such as Sainsbury and Mitchells & Butlers around the time of the credit crunch also hit the Icelandic bank. But the investigation was beset by errors. Problems arose in March last year after 135 police and fraud investigators swooped on the homes and offices of the brothers, as well six others, including Kaupthing's former executive chairman Sigurdur Einarsson.

The SFO conceded there were factual errors with the evidence it used to obtain the search warrants against the brothers after a judicial review found that the warrants were obtained by misrepresentation and non-disclosure to the judge. Lord Goldsmith QC, representing Vincent Tchenguiz, told judges Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Silber in May that the SFO made "false" and "misconceived" allegations. The former attorney general said: "The nature and extent of the SFO's admitted errors … point to collective institutional failure."

The investigation against Vincent Tchenguiz was dropped as a result of the judicial review, and against his brother yesterday when the investigation was discontinued.

Robert Tchenguiz said he welcomed the decision by the SFO to formally clear him of wrongdoing in the collapse of Kaupthing. "I recognise the SFO have an important role to play in investigations of this nature, and have done my utmost to assist them in any way I can," he said. "I look forward to closing this chapter and getting on with business."

The future of the Serious Fraud Office was very uncertain in 2011. Its budget was cut from £52m to £38m, and a number of senior personnel decided to leave.

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