Monday 25 March 2013 by John Hyde

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has raised questions about the Serious Fraud Office's decision to retain a magic circle firm to defend potentially the most expensive case in its history.

Attorney general Dominic Grieve confirmed earlier this month that the SFO had brought in Slaughter and May to help defend a claim from brothers Robert (pictured) and Vincent Tchenguiz.

The tycoons started legal proceedings against the SFO after a three-year investigation against them collapsed. Their claims are estimated to total £300m - more than nine times the SFO's annual budget.

Thornberry has written to Grieve asking for more details of the procurement process that selected Slaughter and May.

Attempts to find out how the cost compared with that of using the Treasury Solicitor's Department (TSol) have already been rebutted, Thornberry said.

In response to a Commons question earlier this month, Grieve said the SFO appointed Slaughter and May after a short procurement exercise on the basis the firm offered best value. TSol continues to be instructed.

He added that the SFO is being charged rates recently agreed with Slaughter and May when it was admitted to the government's panel of external providers of legal services following a competitive procurement exercise.

A full breakdown of costs, including legal fees, will be revealed at the conclusion of the case. The SFO has declined to comment until then. A case management conference was due to take place at the Commercial Court as the Gazette went to press.

Thornberry said: 'There is a lot at stake for the SFO and obviously they want to be well advised. Our primary concern is value for money for the taxpayer because it seems like such an extravagance.'

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