The UK's Serious Fraud Office has admitted that it sent a huge cache of evidence from its bribery investigation into BAE Systems to the wrong recipient.
Anyone who provides information to an SFO investigation is allowed to request that it be returned. The SFO admitted today that between May and October last year, it returned evidence collected from 59 separate sources to a single party.
The data consists of "32,000 document pages, 81 audio tapes and electronic media", the SFO said in a statement this afternoon.
"Of this, 98 per cent of the material has been recovered and efforts continue to recover all the remaining material that has not already been destroyed by the recipient.
"No material relating to national security was included in the data."
The SFO appointed Peter Mason, former security director for Parliament, to conduct an initial investigation of the breach. Mason concluded that it was accidental, and recommended that the organisation make the following changes:
- Continuing ownership of the data in a concluded case by designated operational staff
- Re-drafting of the responsibilities of the SFO's senior information risk owner
- Raising the profile of data handling as a key risk in the SFO's business
The Information Commissioner's Office was notified of the breach. The data protection watchdog is now conducting its own investigation to see whether further legal proceedings are required.
The evidence in question relates to the SFO's 2004 probe into various allegations against BAE, including the claim that it operated a "slush fund" with which to bribe Saudi royals. That investigation was dropped shortly after, a decision that later ruled unlawful.
The SFO launched a second investigation in 2009, looking at BAE's operations in Africa. The company paid a £30 million fine for its failure to keep accurate records.