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Did the SFO use U.K. press laws to muzzle reports?

The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) obtained an order from a British judge last month forbidding the Wall Street Journal from printing the names of dozens of individuals who are expected to be named as co-conspirators in the SFO’s investigation of the London interbank offer rate (LIBOR).

A copy of the order against the WSJ and references to the persons potentially considered part of the LIBOR conspiracy are available in this post from Zero Hedge.

While U.K. courts have recently issued decisions that restrict the right of individuals to use the laws to muzzle reporting, the U.K. government itself doesn’t appear to be subject to the same restrictions.

The SFO could be using the non-disclosure of co-conspirator names to press some of those suspects into accepting plea deals and turning to the government’s side. Keeping the press quiet may be the price of SFO’s attempts at leverage.

Of course, those names are freely available to U.S. readers of the WSJ and anyone with minimal Internet search skills. Even in these Snowden and WikiLeaks times, restrictions on press freedom in the United States are few and generally involve matters of national security. The New York Times has been at least as forthright and aggressive in exploring Wal-Mart’s activities in Mexico as the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The value of a free press in exposing corruption should not require defense. 

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Russell Stamets is a Contributing Editor of the FCPA Blog. He was the first non-Indian general counsel of a publicly traded Indian company and was general counsel for a satellite broadcasting joint venture of a large Indian business house. He can be contacted here.

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