Statement by UK corporate watchdog RAID
On 24 August, the UK’s top anti-corruption agency, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), announced it had decided to drop its ten-year investigation into Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) due to “insufficient admissible evidence to prosecute”. ENRC had been under investigation for corruption and bribery centred on suspected bribes for cobalt and copper mining contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The ENRC case has been one of the SFO’s longest running and most complex investigations. For the SFO to drop the case without any charges after 10 years of work is deeply disappointing and a significant blow to the fight against corruption in the UK.
The SFO faced intense and concerted attention regarding this case. Following the launch of the SFO’s probe in 2013, mining corporation ENRC initiated a wave of legal proceedings against those scrutinising its business dealings – including journalists, lawyers, investigators, former SFO officials and the SFO itself. The company spent a staggering $400 million on litigation and related expenses since 2014, an amount that dwarfed the SFO’s operational budget. In 2021, 22 civil society organisations raised concerns about ENRC’s egregious tactics to escape public scrutiny.
ENRC’s legal onslaught unfortunately appears to have borne fruit. Not only does this case leave the SFO looking outgunned and weak, it also risks that those facing an SFO investigation may employ the same playbook and tactics in the future.
It is also not clear how, or if, SFO officials took into account potential overseas victims of corruption when making their decision to close the investigation.
In January 2020, a group of 16 residents from the DRC stepped forward as potential victims of crime in the SFO’s probe. The group included local chiefs, community representatives and former workers from a copper and cobalt mine in Kolwezi, southern Congo, acquired by ENRC in 2010. RAID and Congolese civil society organisation, AFREWATCH, estimated that 32,000 Congolese residents and 700 former workers may have been negatively impacted following the stripping of the mining license from its previous owner.
The incoming director of the SFO, Nick Ephgrave, who takes up his post next month, will need to act decisively to ensure the agency has appropriate resources to tackle deep-pocketed corporate actors and is focused on bringing victims of corruption into its decision making.