Column One: Keeping mum at the SFO

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The Independent Online
THE SERIOUS FRAUD OFFICE must have been mightily pleased last Friday when it won a conviction in the North Sea oil contracts corruption case, against two men who bribed BP employees. But it was hard to get a reaction from the Elm Street headquarters. The lift broke down with the press officer in it.

THEY ARE still slugging away in the air, viciously undercutting each others' fares, and look set to do battle soon in the US courts, but in a social setting they can be as nice as pie to each other. We are of course talking about Richard Branson, chief of Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Lord King, president of British Airways. They were spotted last week at a British Airports Authority cocktail party amiably chatting.

Or perhaps they were just gritting their teeth and being polite for the sake of their host, whose good offices they both need.

PETER WOOD may have thought he timed his resignation as finance director of Barclays Bank to perfection. His contract expires on 20 April and the annual shareholders' meeting, which should prove to be a lively affair, takes place on 29 April. But Mr Wood, we are told, will be there on the top table to face the music with the rest of the directors. The storm-battered board clearly believes in the safety- in-numbers theory.

MEANWHILE beavering away in the lower echelons at Barclays, the computer buffs have come up with Fraud 2000, a system to trap plastic card fraudsters. When introducing the revolutionary new system, Barry Fergus, project director for fraud control, embarrassingly referred to the time when Barclays was considering introducing charges on current accounts, whoops, credit cards. He apologised for 'a fraudulent (sic) slip of the tongue'.

AND NOW for a slip of the pen or keyboard. Mark Finney, an analyst with NatWest Securities, in a recent circular described Granada's pounds 360m acquisition of Sutcliffe from P&O as 'the Ripper of a deal'. Oh dear]

WAS IT deliberate that All Fools' Day was chosen as the date for a conference examining the practicalities of gas market competition? Sir James McKinnon, director-general of Ofgas and scourge of monopoly power, is the keynote speaker at Competigas, kicking off at 9.45am. His theme, 'My View of a Competitive Gas Market', is expected to bang on about the need to break up British Gas. British Gas's right of reply comes at 11.45am, when its policy and co- ordination manager asks, 'Will British Gas disappear from the Purchase Scene?'

It would disappear altogether if Sir James had his wicked way]