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‘Cooperating fully’: Freshfields advises Tesco on SFO criminal investigation

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is set to advise Tesco on the formal criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after leading the investigation into the retailer’s profit warning alongside accountancy giant Deloitte.

The SFO has notified the company it is launching a formal criminal investigation looking into accounting practices at the company. This follows accounting irregularities that overstated the company’s estimated profits by £263m.

Freshfields team of advisors is understood to include disputes partners Andrew Austin, Ian Taylor, and Ali Sallaway who also co-heads the firm’s global investigations practice.

The firm is a longstanding legal adviser to Tesco, advising on corporate and commercial matters, while Squire Sanders and Hill Dickinson provide employment and insurance advice respectively. Berwin Leighton Paisner was confirmed as lead counsel for real estate in April 2014.

Freshfields represented the supermarket chain during the wide-spread scrutiny over its first-half profits, earlier this year, and also won partial victory for Tesco in the long-running Office of Fair Trading case concerning price-fixing certain dairy products in the market in 2012.

In light of the SFO’s decision to launch the investigation into this matter, the Financial Conduct Authority announced it would discontinue its own investigation with immediate effect.

Tesco said in a regulatory update: ‘Tesco confirms that it has been notified by the SFO that it has commenced an investigation into accounting practices at the company. Tesco has been cooperating fully with the SFO and will continue to do so.’

Freshfields declined to comment.