The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office was denied more time to prepare for a trial over its handling of the 2011 arrests of real estate investors Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz.
While the watchdog started an internal review of “errors” it made, its lawyers said, the probe was complicated by the departure of key staff involved in the criminal investigation, including the man who led it, Mick Randall.
Judge John Thomas ruled the trial should be held May 22 as planned and criticized the SFO for not reporting potential delays earlier.
The only explanation is “sheer incompetence,” he said at the hearing today in London. “I have never come across anything like this.”
The SFO wanted the judicial review of the arrests to be put back while it tried to “reconstruct on what basis the information was put together” using independent experts, said the regulator’s lawyer, James Eadie. The Tchenguiz brothers claim their detentions in March 2011 were unlawful. They were among seven men arrested as part of an SFO investigation into the collapse of Iceland’s Kaupthing Bank Hf.
SFO spokesman David Jones didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment.
The brothers are seeking millions of pounds in damages, attorneys for the SFO said. The court granted a request from the brothers in February for a review of their arrests, which the men claim were unlawful because the warrants were obtained with incorrect information.
Facing dwindling resources resulting from government budget cuts and staff departures, the SFO closed at least five major probes in the past three years without bringing any charges. Its director, Richard Alderman, is stepping down this month.
Vincent Tchenguiz’s lawyer Ben Emmerson said the regulator had relied on incorrect information from Grant Thornton LLP about how the brother’s valued their assets in pursuing the arrests.
“This case has been hanging over my head for a long time,” Vincent Tchenguiz said outside court. “The sooner we can achieve clarity in my attempt to clear my name the better.”
Jason Gowar, a London spokesman for Grant Thornton, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail asking for comment.
The case is Robert Tchenguiz v. Director of the Serious Fraud Office & Anr, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court, CO/4468/2011.