The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has been fined £180,000 after thousands of confidential documents from a high-profile bribery investigation were mistakenly sent to the wrong person.
The papers, from an investigation into a BAE Systems deal, contained evidence relating to 64 people. They were wrongly sent to a witness in the case in an “astounding” lapse, the Information Commissioner’s Office said. The SFO said it had “substantially overhauled its procedures”.
The documents included bank statements, hospital invoices and passport details, and related to the SFO’s investigation into allegations that executives at BAE received payments as part of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The breach was likely to have caused “substantial distress” to witnesses, the ICO said, as there was evidence some of the information was disclosed to a national newspaper and “possibly disseminated overseas”.
People will be “quite rightly shocked” the SFO failed to keep the information of so many individuals secure, ICO deputy commissioner David Smith said. “Given how high-profile this case was – and how sensitive the evidence being returned to witnesses potentially was – it is astounding that the SFO got this wrong,” he said.
The SFO has since recovered 98 per cent of the documents and taken action to ensure adequate security. A SFO spokeswoman said the fine was “expected”, adding: “The SFO took immediate action to recover the data and, following two independent reviews, substantially overhauled its procedures to ensure this mistake could not be made again.”