June 5, 2013 12:17 am

Judge ‘astonished’ by fraud agency request in Tchenguiz case

A senior judge has branded as “astonishing” a suggestion by the Serious Fraud Office that it should be given special treatment to help save the taxpayer money as it continues its legal battle with the property tycoon Tchenguiz brothers.

In a hearing on Tuesday to determine whether the UK fraud-busting agency would be allowed to withdraw its previous admission of trespassing on property belonging to the brothers, Mr Justice Eder said the fact that the potential damages would be paid from the public purse was irrelevant.

“You are not suggesting that somehow the government should be treated differently from any other party? . . . it is something which it seems to me astonishing that counsel managed to sign,” he said.

The criticism was the highlight of an otherwise placid preamble to what is expected to be a more thorough hearing on Wednesday.

Vincent Tchenguiz and his brother Robert were the most recognised names in the SFO’s wide-ranging investigation into the collapse of Kaupthing, the Icelandic bank at the centre of the country’s financial crisis.

However, the case against them deflated last year as the SFO conceded a multitude of errors in the way it had interpreted evidence used to obtain search warrants. In January, following a judicial review into the investigation, Vincent and Robert filed claims for damages totalling £200m and £100m, respectively.

The SFO has made clear its determination to fight hard against the claims – the largest in its 25-year history – and in February hired Slaughter and May, the elite law firm whose roster of clients include Standard Chartered and BHP Billiton, instead of using the Treasury Solicitor, the government’s in-house legal team.

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