UK Fraud Office agrees six-figure settlement with ex-Unaoil prosecutor

FILE PHOTO: Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Lisa Osofsky poses for a photograph in London

By Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) -The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has agreed to pay a substantial settlement a former prosecutor who was wrongfully fired while leading one of the agency's highest-profile bribery investigations.

Tom Martin, who led the British part of the global investigation into the Ahsani family and their Monaco-based energy consultancy Unaoil, will receive around 300,000 pounds ($380,000), two sources familiar with the case said.

Monday's settlement came on the eve of a London lawsuit to hammer out a remedy after Martin was dismissed for gross misconduct in 2018, having been accused of swearing at an FBI agent in a London pub two years previously.

An employment tribunal, however, ruled in 2021 that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ahsanis wanted to remove him from the Unaoil case and thwart the SFO's attempts to extradite Saman Ahsani, a key suspect, to Britain from Rome in 2018.

"On behalf of the SFO, I apologise for the upset caused to you and your family by what the employment tribunal found to be the wrongful and unfair termination of your employment," SFO director Lisa Osofsky said in a letter to Martin, seen by Reuters. The letter did not specify a compensation figure.

An SFO spokesperson said the agency was "committed to maintaining professional and positive working relationships" with staff and had reformed the way it dealt with complaints and investigated staff conduct since 2016.

The investigation into Unaoil, which fixed billions of dollars of energy contracts in post-occupation Iraq, strained Anglo-U.S. relations and left the SFO tarnished.

Disclosure failures and Osofsky's personal contacts with an Ahsani agent - as U.S. and British prosecutors wrestled over prime suspects - sparked rebukes from a judge, a government-ordered review and led to three convictions being overturned.

"I am pleased that this episode is now over and that, after four very difficult years, the SFO has finally accepted that the findings it made against me were wrong both in fact and in law," Martin said in a statement.

British-Iranian brothers Cyrus and Saman Ahsani, Unaoil's former CEO and chief operating officer, pleaded guilty in the U.S. in 2019 to being part of a multimillion-dollar bribery scam to help major Western companies win energy projects in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa over two decades.

($1 = 0.7923 pounds)

(Reporting by Kirstin RidleyEditing by Marguerita Choy and John Stonestreet)