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Fujitsu could face “financial sanctions” to help fund compensation for victims of the Post Office scandal if the Japanese software company is found to be at fault, the postal affairs minister has said.
Kevin Hollinrake told the BBC on Wednesday that it was a “realistic” scenario that Fujitsu would have to pay some of the bill for compensation if it was identified as “culpable for this scandal”.
He added that the UK government was “very, very close” to delivering a solution to exonerate postmasters convicted in the scandal.
While he acknowledged that some issues still required resolution, Hollinrake said the government was eager to find a “mechanism to rapidly overturn” Post Office convictions secured with faulty data from Fujitsu’s Horizon IT system.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to provide an update on Wednesday in the House of Commons. Hollinrake said that a solution today was “possible”.
More than 700 people were criminally prosecuted by the Post Office between 2000 to 2014 using faulty data from the Horizon IT system provided by Fujitsu.
Compensation of £600,000 is being offered to every Post Office worker whose conviction for theft or false accounting is overturned.
To date, 93 convictions of sub-postmasters have been overturned.
Hollinrake said the government was “definitely not ruling out” emergency legislation to quash all the convictions that took place as a result of the Horizon data.
However, he warned that tabling legislation to overturn convictions “en bloc” risked being seen as “interfering with the independent courts process”.
Asked about the plausibility of the government potentially clawing back money from Fujitsu, Hollinrake said the public inquiry into the matter would conclude by the end of this year and was expected to report soon after.
“Then we’ll be able to ascertain which individuals and which organisations are responsible. At that point in time, legal action or potential financial sanctions may be placed on them, which may well contribute to the bill currently with the taxpayer,” Hollinrake told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Government procurement records show that even after Fujitsu’s software was found to be at fault in a December 2019 Court of Appeal ruling, the company was involved in £4.9bn of solo and joint public-sector contracts.
Fujitsu said this week it “apologised for its role in [the postmasters’] suffering” and was committed to supporting the inquiry but declined to comment further “out of respect for the inquiry process”.