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Plea pioneers: HSF advises bank on first deferred prosecution agreement with SFO

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is advising ICBC Standard Bank on its deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) – the first deal to be struck since DPAs came into force in February 2014.

The proposal to enter the DPA was approved in principle by Lord Justice Leveson yesterday (26 November). Both the SFO and ICBC Standard Bank will appear before the Crown Court at Southwark to apply for final approval before the same judge on 30 November.

The SFO instructed 1 Brick Court silk Sir Edward Garnier QC; QEB Hollis Whiteman’s Crispin Aylett QC and Red Lion Chambers’ Allison Clare.

HSF confirmed it had been instructed by the bank with a team led by disputes partner Rod Fletcher alongside Cloth Fair Chambers’ Nicholas Purnell QC but the firm said it would not comment further until the hearing is concluded.

The bank said in a statement any fine relating to the events dating from 2012 to 2013 is not expected to exceed $40m. ICBC Standard Bank is 60% owned by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and 40% by South Africa’s Standard Bank Group.

Introduced last year, DPAs offer an alternative for prosecutors that struggle to charge corporate entities due to the cost and complexity of cross-border investigations.

With a DPA, prosecutors can offer more lenient treatment to companies that report themselves for financial crimes. DPAs are widely used in the US and have received some backlash as critics believed it encouraged corrupt companies to pay fines to avoid prosecution.

The full details of the case and terms of the agreement will be given at the hearing next week.