Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has confirmed that it opened a criminal investigation into the activities at one of Tata Steel’s units in December 2015, as the process to sell the company’s UK assets is set to begin on Monday.
After intially declining to confirm reports of investigating Tata Steel, the SFO said: “The Serious Fraud Office confirms it opened a criminal investigation in December 2015 into activity at Speciality Steels, a business unit of Tata Steel (UK) Ltd. We can make no further comment at this time”.
It was announced after a meeting between business secretary Sajid Javid and Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry in Mumbai that the formal process to sell the UK assets will begin on Monday. Sanjeev Gupta of commodities firm Liberty House is one of the potential buyers. Javid has said his government will make every effort to secure a serious buyer for Tata’s Port Talbot plant in Wales and other assets, with up to 15,000 jobs put at risk by the sale plans.
The SFO’s investigation relates to charges of falsifying certificates on steel composition at Tata Steel’s Yorkshire site. The allegation is that some company employees may have falsified certificates detailing the composition of its steel before sale.
Tata Steel said it had reported the “inappropriate testing and certifications procedures” to the SFO after an internal investigation. The company took “immediate action” and ensured that the practices were stopped, it added.
“A detailed investigation was carried out by a technical team from outside the Speciality Steel business and its conclusions were verified by independent experts. The investigation found that the steel affected and supplied was always well within safety margins”, the company said. “Affected stock was quarantined and assessed, and was either scrapped, transferred to another order or released as appropriate.A number of Speciality Steels personnel were suspended.”
Tata Steel’s Speciality Steels produces around 225,000 tonnes of steel, comprising around 3% of Tata Steel Europe’s total output, and £275 million of turnover.