SFO lawyer forged pledge from MP: Select Committee to examine fraud office

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A LAWYER working for the Serious Fraud Office forged a letter from Sir David Steel, on Commons notepaper, saying falsely that the senior Liberal Democrat MP would attend the bail hearing of a company chairman accused of conspiracy to defraud.

The March 1992 charge was associated with SFO investigations into the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The further evidence of SFO-based dirty tricks was disclosed during a Commons statement by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, on Michael Mates's dramatic Commons allegations about SFO conduct in the Asil Nadir case.

Mr Mates's claim in his resignation speech that there had been improper collusion between a senior Inland Revenue officer and the SFO also looked set to return to the spotlight after fresh revelations last night.

Michael Jones, a solicitor acting for Michael Allcock, the suspended head of the Revenue's special section 2, which handles high-profile investigations, told the Financial Times yesterday that his client had been 'instrumental in the detection of Mr Nadir's affairs and the subsequent referral thereof to the Serious Fraud Office'.

According to the report, Mr Allcock apparently did not deal directly with the SFO but passed some information he had unearthed to the Stock Exchange's Insider Trading Unit before his arrest.

In his Commons statement Sir Nicholas told MPs the SFO had 'carefully and dispassionately' investigated itself after Mr Mates had complained of leaks leading to trial by media; collusion with the Inland Revenue; seizure of privileged defence papers; and a deliberate attempt to destabilise Nadir's defence by applying improper pressure to the judge. As for the SFO forgery allegation, the Attorney said he had personally apologised to Sir David for 'a grave error of misjudgement'.

However, he assured MPs that the forgery had not been 'a matter of dishonesty'; rather a very stupid thing that should not be allowed to 'muddy the waters'.

Yesterday, as publication of letters between Mr Mates and the the Attorney General was delayed for at least 24 hours, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee decided to examine the operation of the Serious Fraud Office in the autumn.

It was left to Sir David to reveal that his complaint had been brushed aside by the SFO, which said the forgery had been a 'thoroughly misguided April Fool joke', and that he had been unable to pursue the matter because the letter had been destroyed.

The author of the forgery, an SFO lawyer, had been 'heavily ticked off', but was still working for the Office, according to a government source.

In his response to Mr Mates's resignation statement, Sir Nicholas said the police were investigating an alleged conspiracy to bribe Mr Justice Tucker, the judge in the Nadir case. However, he pre-empted one part of that investigation, when he referred to the court allegation that Mr Justice Tucker had been involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, saying police had found 'no credible evidence implicating the judge personally in any way'.

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