A London judge has said a senior partner at corporate law firm Dechert LLP breached his duties to Kazakhstani mining conglomerate ENRC by leaking information about the company to three British newspapers and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
High Court judge Mr Justice Waksman said Neil Gerrard, the former head of white-collar crime at Dechert LLP, breached his professional obligations by leaking ENRC’s confidential information, while leading an internal investigation on behalf of the Kazakhstani firm.
Senior officers at the SFO also breached their duties, after they “induced” the Dechert solicitor to leak the documents by accepting and then using those privileged documents for their own investigations, the judge said.
The ruling comes after the mining company claimed the Dechert lawyer leaked the confidential documents with a view to bringing in more work in a bid to maximise his fees.
The judge said the SFO officials acted “recklessly” and engaged in “bad faith opportunism” by accepting leaked documents from the Dechert lawyer, but ruled the UK government agency had not colluded with Gerrard in order to help him earn higher fees.
The High Court judge also said the SFO should still allowed to use the leaked documents in its ongoing investigation into ENRC, over allegations of fraud, bribery, and corruption within the Kazakhstani firm.
Spotlight on Corruption legal expert George Havenhand said the ruling will come as “a welcome relief to the SFO,” due to the fact it does not actively block the government agency’s years long investigation into ENRC.
The ruling comes as critics have accused the oligarch owned firm of using “legal warfare” to silence criticism and hinder investigations into ENRC.
The judgement also comes after a UK High Court dismissed a libel lawsuit brought forward by the mining company against Financial Times journalist Tom Burgis.
A Dechert spokesperson said: “We recognise fully the seriousness of the judge’s findings in relation to Mr. Gerrard’s conduct. We are considering the judgment to see what we should learn from it.”
“Trust among partners is integral to any partnership, and throughout this litigation, Dechert has always acted in good faith in reliance on the assurances given to us by our former partner.”
“The court has now found Mr. Gerrard to have committed conduct, which is completely at odds, not only with our values, ethos, and culture as a firm, but also with the high ethical and professional standards adhered to on a daily basis by our lawyers the world over.”
A spokesperson for Neil Gerrard said: “I and my family are devastated by today’s judgment. After over 30 untainted years as a solicitor I remain sure of the appropriateness of my actions, of my advice in relation to my former client and of my personal and professional integrity.”
“I gave evidence to the best of my ability and believed I was telling the truth at all times. I would like to thank Dechert for their support. This is my only comment at this time.”