SFO Seeks Files From SocGen Over Libya Bribery Allegations

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Serious Fraud Office sought documents from Societe Generale SA amid probes into a dispute between the French bank and the Libyan Investment Authority, days after the lender agreed to pay 963 million euros ($1.06 billion) to resolve a related civil-bribery lawsuit.

Lawyers for the LIA and the bank disagreed on why the prosecutor wants the paperwork, with an attorney for the Libyans saying the SFO was conducting a probe into Societe Generale. The bank’s attorney said the document request was made on behalf of U.S. investigators.

The U.K. prosecutor was working on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, the bank’s lawyer, Sandy Phipps, told the court. "It is not the case" the bank is under investigation by the SFO.

"The SocGen defendants have long been cooperating with the DOJ," Phipps said. The SFO’s request covers documents "broadly similar to the U.S subpoena," he said.

The Justice Department has been investigating a plethora of banks, private-equity firms and hedge funds that may have violated anti-bribery laws while dealing with the LIA. The document request and any SFO interest will be an unwelcome development for Societe Generale in the case, in which a group of executives were given permission to testify in secret to avoid incriminating themselves.

Roger Masefield, a lawyer for the LIA, had said earlier Monday that there was a "pending SFO investigation."

"My understanding is that the SFO wishes the SocGen defendants to hand over various categories of documents by 8 June 2017, including all those that have come into SocGen’s possession as a result of these proceedings," Masefield said.

Lack of Caution

Spokespeople for Societe Generale and the SFO declined to comment. Societe Generale apologized to the LIA and said it regretted the “lack of caution” of some of its employees, when it settled the matter this month.½

Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman, declined to comment.

The lender and LIA settled their legal dispute, involving five transactions between 2007 and 2009, hours before a civil trial was to start this month.

The U.K. prosecutor’s request emerged at a hearing scheduled to discuss what should happen with the thousands of documents generated for the vacated trial and the identification of those people who would have testified anonymously. Masefield said the “confidentiality club” had grown to 150 individuals from 20 over the two-year period before the trial.

"We have moved from tens of documents to tens of thousands of documents being part of the confidentiality club," Masefield said. An SFO representative attending the hearing didn’t participate in the discussions.

The Libyan case hinged on a $58.4 million payment made by Societe Generale to a businessman named Walid Al-Giahmi to secure investment deals. The LIA, which manages Libya’s oil profits and has assets of more than $60 billion, sought to claim losses of about $1.5 billion. The group alleged the payment was a bribe, making the trades invalid. The bank had denied wrongdoing, saying the money was for introductory services and market research.

A similar lawsuit against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. from the LIA -- that dealt with allegations of undue influence instead of bribery -- was thrown out six months ago after a long trial in London.

(A previous version of this story was corrected to fix the name of the LIA attorney.)