Last week the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) issued a press release that

“Four men connected to Sustainable AgroEnergy plc have…been charged with offences of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to furnish false information, contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, in connection with the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the promotion and selling of “bio fuel” investment products to UK investors.  The value of the alleged fraud is approximately £23m and the offences are said to have taken place between April 2011 and February 2012.

The men, all British nationals, are:

– Gary Lloyd West (age 52) of Hertfordshire, the former Director and Chief Commercial Officer of Sustainable AgroEnergy plc

– James Brunel Whale (age 38) of West Sussex, the former Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable AgroEnergy plc

– Stuart John Stone (age 28) of Shropshire, an Independent Financial Adviser associated with Sustainable AgroEnergy plc

– Fung Fong Wong (age 57) of Middlesex, the former Financial Controller of Sustainable AgroEnergy plc

West, Stone and Wong have also been charged with offences of making and accepting a financial advantage contrary to section 1 (1) and 2 (1) of the Bribery Act 2010.

The SFO commenced proceedings today against the four and they will appear before Westminster Magistrates Court on 23 September 2013”

Whilst three cases have already been brought under the Bribery Act 2010, which became effective on 1st July 2011, none of those cases were brought by the SFO but by other bodies including, for example, the Crown Prosecution Service.

This development isn’t as exciting to practitioners as it might first appear, as there are no charges under the new Section 7 offence against a corporation for “failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery” by reason of inadequate procedures. Practitioners in this area are all waiting for a Section 7 prosecution.  The general view seems to be that we won’t have to wait very much longer, but that’s really just a guess and not an inside view !

Anyway, three of the aforementioned defendants are about to make history, as defendants to the first SFO prosecution under the Bribery Act.

As to Sustainable AgroEnergy Plc itself, it is reported in the media  (MoneyMarketing) that

“Sipp investors are facing losses of up to £32m after the Serious Fraud Office appointed administrators to wind up a number of related “sustainable” investment companies.

Southwark Crown Court issued a freezing order last month on assets held by Sustainable Agroenergy Plc, Sustainable Wealth Investments (UK) Limited and Sustainable Growth Group (UK) Limited after a request from the SFO”.

We will blog further on the story as it unfurls.