UK fraud office's criminal case against former Serco execs falls through

·2-min read

(Reuters) -Britain's fraud watchdog's bid for a criminal trial of two former Serco executives over prisoner-tagging contracts collapsed on Monday when a court threw out the case on procedural grounds.

A judge refused the Serious Fraud Office's request to adjourn the case and directed the jury to return verdicts of not guilty against the defendants over an SFO failure to disclose certain documents to the defence, the SFO said in a statement.

"This follows a prosecution review of its disclosure process for the trial, which uncovered errors made in the non-disclosure of certain materials," the SFO statement said. "The SFO sought an adjournment to remedy the position so that it could pursue a retrial, but this was rejected by the judge.

"We are considering how best to undertake an assessment to prevent this from happening in the future," it added.

A long-running investigation by the watchdog into how Serco, one of Britain's biggest outsourcers, billed the government over electronic tags for prisoners turned a corner in 2019 when Serco and the SFO agreed to settle the case for $24 million.

But a separate criminal investigation into executives linked to the contract continued. Two ex-directors of Serco units were charged with fraud and false accounting later that year.

Andrew Katzen, partner at Hickman & Rose, and a solicitor for one of the former executives, said Monday's outcome was "a welcome vindication of (my) client."

Neil Swift, partner at Peters & Peters Solicitors, who represented the second ex-director, said his client was relieved and there was "also a sense of indignation that the Serious Fraud Office's case should fold in this manner".

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru and Huw Jones in London; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Shailesh Kuber and Mark Heinrich)