Geoffrey Cox, former UK attorney-general © Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

A Miami-based fixer at the heart of a scandal involving the head of the UK Serious Fraud Office sought to curry favour with Geoffrey Cox, attorney-general at the time, while his clients were under investigation for alleged corruption, it has emerged.

David Tinsley, the private investigator, who was acting unofficially for three members of a British-Iranian family at the heart of the SFO probe, met Mr Cox in 2018. At around that time he was also controversially speaking to Lisa Osofsky, the SFO’s chief, in an attempt to secure the withdrawal of arrest warrants that the agency had issued for his clients.

Mr Cox was the SFO’s superintendent at the time.

Mr Cox said he and Mr Tinsley did not discuss the case, into the oil and gas consultancy Unaoil, at the previously undisclosed meeting. But the fact that it happened means Mr Tinsley had access to the highest levels of legal decision-making while representing suspects in a corruption case.

Unaoil was one of the SFO’s most prominent cases and any decision to drop it would have been flagged to Mr Cox at quarterly briefings. The MP said he did not know who Mr Tinsley was and was not informed at any time about the investigator’s links to the matter.

The meeting highlights new detail about contact between the attorney-general’s office and Mr Tinsley at a time when it has refused to engage in a review, initiated by the SFO, of Ms Osofsky’s conduct.

Mr Cox said he met with Mr Tinsley for 20 minutes in the waiting room of his barristers’ chambers on October 18, 2018, after an acquaintance requested that he meet an unnamed contact with links to the US government. 

“It rapidly became apparent that he wished to draw to my attention the value of his services and those of his company in facilitating a better working relationship between the English investigation and prosecution authorities and the US government and US law enforcement agencies,” Mr Cox said in written responses to questions.

Mr Cox said he “took no action in connection with the meeting” and had no further contact with Mr Tinsley.

Mr Tinsley, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent and founder of 5 Stones Intelligence agency, used a similar approach to Ms Osofsky in September 2018, according to a legal ruling made public on Monday that strongly criticised Ms Osofsky. 

Judge Martin Beddoe said Mr Tinsley had “represented that he was committed” to “mending the relationship between the SFO and the FBI and building something great”.

The agent had contacted Ms Osofsky with “flattering” messages according to Judge Beddoe, which she “made herself vulnerable to” and with which she continued to engage against the wishes of her staff. Legal arguments filed in the case revealed texts in which Mr Tinsley called Ms Osofsky “the bomb”. Judge Beddoe said she should only have been speaking to appointed counsel.

Mr Tinsley promised to secure guilty pleas from two defendants he did not represent and tried to persuade the SFO to lift arrest warrants for his clients — Unaoil founders Ata, Cyrus and Saman Ahsani — despite having no formal legal role in the case.

The SFO withdrew the warrants in 2019 after the US issued competing warrants. Cyrus and Saman later pleaded guilty in the US, in October 2019. Ata Ahsani was never charged.

Lawyers for Ziad Akle, Unaoil’s former Iraq territory manager, first raised the possibility that Mr Tinsley had met the attorney-general during the course of an attempt to throw out the case against their client in January. Mr Akle was subsequently convicted on two bribery charges.

On Wednesday, Mr Cox’s replacement as attorney-general, Suella Braverman, said Ms Osofsky had her “full confidence.”

The SFO declined to comment on the matter. Mr Tinsley and his representatives did not respond to requests for comment on his meeting with Mr Cox.

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