Norman Lamont, Hermitage, Magnitsky Affair

P. John made this Freedom of Information request to Serious Fraud Office

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Serious Fraud Office.

Dear Serious Fraud Office,

The Peer, Lord Lamont of Lerwick (Norman Lamont) has been a director of several controversial companies.

In December 2008, he joined the board of spyware company Phorm, and remains a non-executive director. In 2006, 2007, and 2008 Phorm engaged in covert mass surveillance/industrial espionage of the UK's telecommunications infrastructure using Russian supplied surveillance technology. I was among people who reported their activities to the police.

Phorm were recently listed by The State of Delaware as 'tax delinquents' (Lord Lamont is a former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer).(See *)

Lord Lamont is also a former director of RAB Capital, which was forced to delist in May 2011. Investors and shareholders "lost billions as a result of high-risk investments in companies which included the doomed lender Northern Rock". (See **).

Lord Lamont is also Chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. And he is a former director of Balli Group (an Anglo-Iranian company). Balli Group was fined $15m by the US DoJ in February 2010, after three airliners were illegally exported to Iran. The penalties were described at the time as the "largest fines for an export violation in BIS history". Accelerating the payment of the penalties, Assistant Secretary Mills later stated: "[Balli] failed in my judgment to arrange its business and financial affairs in such a manner as to ensure compliance with its civil penalty payment obligations – obligations that were imposed, moreover, as a result of Balli’s egregious conduct that violated U.S. export control laws and provided support to Iran and its proliferation efforts". (See ***/****).

Lamont was appointed a Member of the Advisory Board of Bill Browder's Hermitage Global Fund, when it was launched in April 2007 (and quit the role late last year).

During Lord Lamont's tenure at Hermitage, the company were subject to alleged "Corporate Raiding". Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant appointed by Hermitage, discovered evidence that corrupt Russian officials & organised criminals had fraudulently reclaimed $230m in tax by taking ownership of Hermitage companies, impersonating the owners, and laundering the money received through foreign bank accounts. Magnitsky was later arrested by Russian Police & died in custody, shortly before he was due to be released. Alexander Perepilichny, another witness who had provided evidence to investigators, recently died suddenly in Surrey.

I understand Swiss authorities began an investigation into the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair March 2011. UK Police are investigating the circumstances of the death of Perepilichny. According to press reports there are concurrent investigations into Hermitage/Magnitsky in Switzerland, Cyprus, Latvia, and Lithuania. (See *****).

And I'm wondering what part the SFO are playing in the mix.

Please could you disclose to me:-
1. Confirmation that the SFO are aware or, and investigating the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.
2. Confirmation that the SFO investigation is co-operating with Swiss, Cypriot, Latvian, and Lithuanian investigations.
3. Confirm whether Lord Lamont has been interviewed as a witness in relation to the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.
4. Disclose correspondence between the SFO and Lord Lamont relating to the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.

many thanks,
regards
P John

* https://nodpi.org/2013/02/28/phorm-inc-d...
** RAB set to delist as assets evaporate http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0220ab82-7bc0-...
*** U.K. Firm Pleads Guilty to Illegally Exporting Boeing 747 Aircraft to Iran http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2010/Febru...
**** BIS Revokes Suspension of Penalty for Balli Group PLC and
Balli Aviation; Payment Schedule Accelerated http://www.bis.doc.gov/news/2011/bis_pre...
***** Lithuanian prosecutors open investigation into multi-million dollar tax fraud by Russian organised crime group http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/...

Information Officer, Serious Fraud Office

Mr John

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 19 March 2013. I am dealing with it, as requested, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

The SFO has assigned the above reference number to your request for identification purposes. Please refer to it in any future correspondence.

In some circumstances a fee may be payable. If that is the case, I will let you know. A fees notice will be issued to you, and you will be required to pay before we will proceed to deal with your request.

FOIA requires us to reply to you promptly and within 20 working days following the day of receipt of your request. Allowing for the Easter holidays, the deadline for replying to your request is 18 April 2013.

Kind regards

[first name removed] [last name of removed]

[first name removed] [last name of removed] | Trainee Solicitor | SFO | 2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5BS | +44 (0)20 7239 7300

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Information Officer, Serious Fraud Office

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Mr John

I refer to your request of 19 March 2013 with the reference number 2013-027.

Please find attached a response to your request.

Kind regards

[first name removed]

[first name removed] [last name of removed] | Trainee Solicitor | SFO | 2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5BS | +44 (0)20 7239 7300

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Dear Serious Fraud Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Serious Fraud Office's handling of my FOI request 'Norman Lamont, Hermitage, Magnitsky Affair'.

In my request I asked you to disclose four items of information;

1. Confirmation that the SFO are aware or, and investigating the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.
2. Confirmation that the SFO investigation is co-operating with Swiss, Cypriot, Latvian, and Lithuanian investigations.
3. Confirm whether Lord Lamont has been interviewed as a witness in relation to the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.
4. Disclose correspondence between the SFO and Lord Lamont relating to the Hermitage/Magnitsky affair.

You refused to provide any of the information claiming a section 30 exemption applies, and further claiming the public interest did not favour disclosure.

I believe confirming (or denying) the existence of an SFO investigation is clearly in the public interest. It has been alleged by directors of the UK registered hedge fund Hermitage Capital that their Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky was murdered in Russian custody, and a large sum of money fraudulently obtained and laundered.

If that is true, it is in the public interest for the SFO to investigate (and confirm the same) without necessarily disclosing the evidence gathered during that investigation (which would clearly be exempt).

Further, the Swiss, Cypriot, Latvian, and Lithuan authorities seemingly do not share your assessment of the public interest in confirming the existence of an investigation... leaving the UK SFO looking rather anomalous.

In addition I hope you will accept the standard for a public interest test - where a member of the House of Lords and close friend of the Prime Minister is a party to a criminal complaint of murder, fraud, and money laundering - must be set *considerably* higher than might ordinarly be the case for an alleged crime.

The public have a right to expect that the law will be enforced without fear or favour toward rich & powerful people. Even if it is.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address:
http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/no...

Yours faithfully,

P. John

Information Officer, Serious Fraud Office

Mr John

I am sorry that you have not previously had a response to your e-mail below.

We will conduct an internal review of our handling of your request and aim to respond to you by Friday 17 May at the latest.

Regards

Christopher Simson

Chris Simson | Strategic Policy Adviser | SFO | 2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5BS | (+44) 020 7239 7315

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Information Officer, Serious Fraud Office

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Mr John

Thank you for your request below for a review. Our response is attached. The reviewer had not been previously involved in consideration of your original request.

Regards

Christopher Simson

Chris Simson | Strategic Policy Adviser | SFO | 2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5BS | (+44) 020 7239 7315

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Dear Mr Simson,

thank you for your review of my FoI request.

How disappointing your response.

With so many examples of large scale fraud & corruption going unpunished by SFO, it is impossible to accept that I should simply trust you to do the right thing.

But thank you anyway.

Yours sincerely,

P. John