The UK's anti-fraud unit has admitted losing tens of thousands of documents from an investigation into defence giant BAE systems.
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has revealed it accidentally sent 32,000 pages, 81 audio tapes and electronic media belonging to 59 different sources to the wrong address. Ninety-eight per cent of this material has been recovered, and none of the data relates to national security, the SFO added.
A Serious Fraud Office spokeswoman said: "The SFO is dealing with an incident of accidental data loss. The data concerned was obtained by the SFO in the course of its closed investigation into BAE Systems.
"The SFO has a duty to return material to those who supplied it, upon request, after the close of an investigation. In this instance the party requesting the return was sent additional material which had in fact been obtained from other sources."
The data made up 3% of the total data in the case, the spokeswoman added. She went on: "Any loss of data is a serious matter and the SFO has taken action to ensure no further material can be wrongly sent out."
Peter Mason, former director of security at the Palace of Westminster, conducted an initial review and made some recommendations, including raising the profile of data handling as a key risk in the SFO's business. In addition, David Green, the director of the SFO, has launched an independent wide-ranging review of all the organisation's business processes.
The SFO started its investigation into BAE in 2004. The investigation, which was prompted by allegations received concerning a defence contract with Saudi Arabia, ultimately also included contracts between BAE and a number of other countries including the Czech Republic, Romania and South Africa.
The SFO investigation relating to Saudi Arabia was discontinued in December 2006 in the interest of national security.
BAE agreed a settlement in February 2010 with the US Department of Justice in relation to contracts with Saudi Arabia and central and eastern Europe, and with the SFO in relation to a Tanzania contract. The FTSE 100 giant was fined £500,000 at Southwark Crown Court in December 2010 after admitting it had failed to keep adequate accounting records in relation to the defence contract for the supply of an air traffic control system to the government of Tanzania.
The SFO identified the data loss, which took place between May and October 2012, in May this year. The unit has contacted the 59 sources of the data and is contacting others who may have been hit.