SFO director denies impropriety over prosecution of Nadir

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The Independent Online
GEORGE STAPLE, director of the Serious Fraud Office, last night categorically denied 'any impropriety in the conduct of the SFO investigation of Asil Nadir and his subsequent prosecution,' writes Peter Rodgers.

He also denied the SFO had leaked a letter from Michael Mates to the Attorney General that helped to bring down the minister, adding anyone with any evidence of a leak should give it to him.

The SFO's response was curt because it has insisted until now that Nadir could still stand trial, so that comment would be prejudicial. But there was speculation that with the possibility of Nadir's return receding, there could be a government decision to publish the full correspondence with Mr Mates, including what are said to be detailed rebuttals of his claims.

A complication is that Mr Mates used parliamentary privilege to give an account of court hearings where the judge banned reporting to prevent prejudice to Nadir's trial. It is also thought that the Director of Public Prosecution's counsel was involved in the court exchanges over a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, rather than the SFO's counsel, as Mr Mates claimed.

Yesterday, reaction among lawyers was that they needed convincing of impropriety. Michael Levi, Professor of Criminology at the University of Wales, Cardiff, said most lawyers he questioned during research for the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice thought the SFO 'basically honourable'. The professor, author of a 230- page report on fraud trials, added: 'If people think British fraud prosecutors are aggressive they ought to see American prosecutors.'

The SFO was set up in 1988 to improve the handling of large and complex fraud cases after Lord Roskill's 1986 inquiry concluded the British system was not tough enough.

One explanation for antipathy to the SFO is that Parliament made it a combined investigator and prosecutor, and included a deliberate erosion of the fundamental right to silence, allowing it to compel defendants to answer questions or produce documents, even after they have been charged.