Fraud squad loses 32,000 pages of probe documents

 
Marion Dakers
THE SERIOUS Fraud Office admitted yesterday that it accidentally sent 32,000 pages of evidence to the wrong person in the wake of its investigation into BAE Systems’ arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The SFO revealed that it took a year for it to realise the mistake, in the latest embarrassment for the fraud-fighting body.

Officials discovered in May that the documents, along with 81 audio tapes, had been returned to the wrong source between May and October 2012.

The SFO has been in touch with the 59 parties involved in the BAE inquiry and said yesterday that it is “working to contact any others who may have been affected”.

The office said it has recovered 98 per cent of the material, which related to BAE’s Al-Yamamah deal but did not contain information on matters of national security. The SFO dropped the investigation in 2006.

An internal probe carried out by Paul Mason, the former director of security for the Houses of Parliament, found that the data loss was accidental.

BAE said in a statement that it was “concerned to hear of this unfortunate incident but understand it has now been dealt with by the relevant authorities”.

Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said the loss displays “government incompetence of the first magnitude”.

The SFO has endured a string of mishaps in recent years. Its case against the Tchenguiz brothers collapsed last year, and the property tycoons are suing for £300m in damages. Executives have also been in hot water recently for high wage bills and housing expenses.