The UK’s Serious Fraud Office has narrowed the field of suspects in its investigation into bribery and corruption at Rolls-Royce, in a sign that a final decision on which executives should face charges could be nearing.
The SFO confirmed on Monday that it had notified a number of individuals in recent weeks that they were “no longer suspects in the Rolls-Royce investigation”, adding: “The investigation continues in relation to a number of individuals.”
While some people have been ruled out of the probe, charging decisions are not believed to be imminent in the years-long investigation. The company itself admitted a range of charges in January 2017 as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the SFO and authorities in the US and Brazil.
Sir John Rose, former chief executive of Rolls-Royce, is not believed to be one of those contacted. Sir John has previously denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offence. His lawyer declined to comment.
Lawyers representing several other former senior executives said they had not been contacted by the SFO, and in some cases had not received any update on the investigation for several months.
Rolls-Royce said on Monday it “continues to co-operate fully with the authorities, including ongoing co-operation as the Serious Fraud Office pursues inquiries into individuals. We note the latest action taken by the SFO, but will not comment on individual cases”.
The SFO announced it was formally investigating Rolls-Royce in December 2013. The charges against the company included falsifying accounts to hide the illegal use of local middlemen, attempting to thwart investigations into corruption, and paying tens of millions in bribes to win engine and other contracts in Indonesia, Thailand, China and Russia.
According to the deferred prosecution agreement, evidence of corruption was found in its civil aerospace, military and former energy businesses over a period of more than 20 years, while the UK allegations stretched back as far as 1989 and ran to 2013.
As part of the deal, Rolls-Royce agreed to pay £671m in fines, including a record £497m to the SFO. Dozens of former Rolls-Royce executives were questioned under caution after the prosecution deal was confirmed.
Lisa Osofsky, who took over as SFO director four months ago, told the Commons justice committee in December that she was personally reviewing the evidence in more than 70 cases, to see why it was taking so long to conclude investigations and reach decisions on charging companies and individuals.