11:46, February 17 40 0 theguardian.com

2021-02-17 11:46:05
Senior UK fraud prosecutor unfairly sacked after US sabotage, tribunal finds

A senior prosecutor was unfairly sacked by the Serious Fraud Office after the US Department of Justice filed complaints against him in an attempt to sabotage his position at the agency, a judge has found.

Tom Martin, who prosecuted large-scale corruption, was dismissed by the UK agency in 2018 after it was alleged that he called an FBI agent “a cunt” during a trip to a pub in London.

An employment tribunal judge has ruled that Martin probably did not utter the word. The judge Andrew Glennie found instead that American prosecutors filed a series of complaints against Martin in order to get him removed from a major investigation into international bribery that he was leading.

At the time the SFO and American prosecutors were embroiled in a bitter transatlantic row over who should control the investigation, which was supposed to be run cooperatively between the two countries.

Martin’s victory at the employment tribunal will be seen as a blow for Lisa Osofsky, the SFO’s director. She is also facing an official inquiry over another controversy relating to the same investigation. Last year a judge criticised her over “flattering” text messages she received from a private investigator who was seeking to secure more favourable sentences for his clients.

In his ruling, Glennie determined that Martin’s complaints of unfair dismissal and breach of contract were “well founded”.

Martin was dismissed in 2018 by the SFO following complaints from the Department of Justice (DoJ) about an incident that had taken place two years previously.

The SFO alleged that during a trip to a London pub in May 2016 to improve relations with US investigators, Martin had called the FBI agent Kevin Luebke, a “cunt”. The SFO decided that this amounted to gross misconduct, justifying his dismissal.

In a tribunal hearing last September, Glennie heard evidence from Martin and witnesses about what was said in the pub. Martin admitted that he had called Luebke a “quisling” and a “spy” but denied he had used the swear word.

In his verdict issued this week, Glennie ruled: “There is no real doubt that [Martin] called Mr Luebke a quisling. I find as a matter of probability that he also called him a spy … I find, again as a matter of probability, that [Martin] did not use the word c***. I also find that, whether [Martin] said one, two or all three of these things, Mr Luebke did not take offence.”

Martin had not lied about the use of the swear word either, he determined.

Glennie agreed with Martin who had alleged that the true reason for his dismissal stemmed from a desire to remove him from the leadership of the investigation on the part of the DoJ and the key suspects of that investigation.

Martin had been leading the SFO’s investigation into the Ahsani family, who owned and controlled a consultancy, Unaoil. Cyrus Ahsani and his brother Saman have since pleaded guilty to paying multimillion-dollar bribes to officials in nine countries over a period of 17 years.

Two years ago the Ahsanis and the DoJ submitted 34 complaints about Martin’s conduct during the investigation. The SFO dismissed all of the complaints except the one referring to the alleged curse in the pub, which it upheld.

Glennie ruled: “I find that the only possible outcome of a reasonable consideration of [Martin’s] case as to the motivation for the complaint being raised when it was is a finding that it was indeed made as part of an attempt to secure his removal as case controller.”

He analysed the evidence put forward by Martin, concluding that it was “telling”. He described Martin as an “effective and charismatic leader” who had been creating difficulties for the American prosecutors and the Ahsanis.

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At the time of the dispute, the SFO and the DoJ were arguing over who should be primarily in charge of the investigation into Unaoil. Documents seen by the Guardian have revealed how the SFO accused its US counterpart of deceiving it during the row, prompting the UK to complain that “we look like fools”.

Confidential exchanges between the SFO and the US show how American prosecutors allegedly went behind the backs of the British prosecutors to stymie their efforts to bring a key suspect, Saman Ahsani, to trial in the UK.

An SFO spokesperson said: “We are carefully considering the judgment and all our options.”

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