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SFO wins forfeiture for DOJ in Griffiths Energy case

The UK High Court upheld a forfeiture order sought by the Serious Fraud Office at the request of U.S. authorities against $6.8 million linked to the sale of shares in a Canadian energy company.

The money in the Royal Bank of Scotland came from the sale of 800,000 shares in Caracal Energy Inc, formerly known as Griffiths Energy International Inc.

Griffiths Energy sold the shares to a nominee of two Chad diplomats for about $1 million. In exchange for the deeply discounted shares, the diplomats helped Griffith win oil development rights in Chad.

In 2013, Griffiths Energy paid a C$10 million criminal fine after pleading guilty in a Canadian court to violating the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

Griffiths admitted bribing Chad’s former ambassador to the United States and Canada, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, and his wife, along with Youssouf Hamid Takane, Chad’s deputy chief of mission in the United States.

In June this year, the U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint for the civil forfeiture of $34 million against assets held by Bechir and his wife and Takane.

The SFO became involved in July 2014, following a mutual legal assistance request from the DOJ to freeze the assets in the RBS account linked to the sale of the Griffith stock.

The UK High Court this month upheld an earlier forfeiture order against the account, despite release of a freeze order by courts in Canada.

Because Canadian courts hadn’t considered the merits of the case, their judgment wasn’t binding on another jurisdiction, the High Court in London said.

Bechir is now serving as Chad’s ambassador to South Africa. The UK court rejected claims of diplomatic immunity against the forfeiture action.

The decision from the Queen’s Bench Division in the High Court in the Serious Fraud Office and Ikram Mahamet Saleh [2015] EWHC 2119 (QB) is here.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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