City lawyer Neil Gerrard rejected the notion he lied under oath during a multimillion-pound High Court trial after text messages emerged suggesting he knew one of his client’s senior employees was secretly giving evidence to investigators.
Gerrard and his firm Dechert represented Kazakh mining giant Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) between 2011 and 2013, investigating allegations of bribery and corruption at one of its subsidiaries in Kazakhstan.
The investigation later expanded to cover further allegations, including claims that ENRC’s subsidiary paid for a Kazakh police chief’s son’s university education and breached sanctions by trading with Iran.
In April 2013, just weeks after Dechert was sacked by the company, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened a formal criminal inquiry into ENRC, which is ongoing and has not led to any criminal charges.
ENRC claims Dechert provided negligent advice while the “Machiavellian” Gerrard used the company as a “cash cow”, leaking information to the press and the SFO to prolong the investigation in order to make more money.
Gerrard, a former policeman turned white-collar crime lawyer, is alleged to have leaked confidential documents to a national newspaper, prompting a “damaging” story which triggered a formal letter to ENRC from the SFO.
The former FTSE 100 company also claims the SFO encouraged Gerrard to leak confidential information about ENRC, which is suing the watchdog for around £70m in damages.
Lawyers representing Gerrard and Dechert have previously told the High Court that ENRC’s claims are “an elaborate work of fiction” and that “the sheer nastiness of the attack on Gerrard smacks of vendetta”.
The SFO – which says it continues to carry out a criminal investigation into ENRC over “allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption around the acquisition of substantial mineral assets” – argues that the claim against it is “hopeless”.
Gerrard was expected to conclude his evidence on Wednesday, but his cross-examination continued on Thursday afternoon after text messages between him and a senior ENRC employee were uncovered.
Gerrard previously denied being aware Cary Depel, ENRC’s former global head of compliance, was going to be interviewed by the SFO in 2012.
He told the High Court last week that such a development “would have been huge” and dismissed suggestions that he tried to hide it from ENRC as “completely bonkers” and “ridiculous”.
But ENRC’s lawyers said messages between Gerrard and Depel, which have recently been obtained from a back-up of Gerrard’s phones, suggested the lawyer had lied in his evidence.
Clare Montgomery QC, representing ENRC, said Gerrard’s previous evidence that he knew nothing about the SFO’s plan to interview Depel was “a deliberate untruth” and said he had “lied to the court”.
At this point, the trial judge Mr Justice Waksman reminded Gerrard that he had the right to not answer any question if it might “expose you to a criminal charge”.
Montgomery then referred to a text sent by Depel to Gerrard in April 2012, which she suggested only Gerrard and two senior SFO investigators knew that Depel was going to be interviewed.
She said to Gerrard: “The truth is that you knew full well of a plan to interview Depel … you arranged it and you knew when it had taken place, didn’t you?”
Gerrard replied: “I have absolutely no memory of these texts.”
He agreed that such a text message would have been “very memorable” and that it would have been his duty as a solicitor to inform ENRC that Depel was about to be interviewed by the SFO.
Asked why he had not informed ENRC, Gerrard said: “I can’t remember at all these texts. This is as big a surprise to me as anyone else.”
Memory affected by ‘Long Covid’
The former lawyer, who retired from Dechert at the end of last year, later said that his memory was affected by “long Covid” and that he had recently been reminded by his wife that he had suffered from bouts of “global amnesia”.
Montgomery referred to a number of calls and texts between Gerrard and Depel around the time of Depel’s interview with the SFO in May 2012.
She suggested to Gerrard that “clearly you knew that he was turning Queen’s evidence”, to which Gerrard said: “By these texts, I must have known that he was going to see the SFO.”
But when Montgomery suggested he had previously told a “deliberate untruth” in his evidence, Gerrard said: “I’m afraid that was my recollection until I have seen these texts, which I don’t remember.”
Montgomery took Gerrard to a sworn witness statement in which he asserted that Depel had not told him that he was going to be interviewed by the SFO.
Gerrard accepted his statement was inaccurate, saying: “I have absolutely no recollection of him putting me on notice.”
Montgomery said: “If you were doing your duty as a solicitor, protecting ENRC, you would, wouldn’t you, have had to tell them about Depel (being interviewed by the SFO)?”
Gerrard said he agreed and accepted that he had not done so.
Montgomery said: “You decided not to do your duty by them (ENRC).”
Gerrard replied: “I did not tell them and so I failed in that duty, yes.”
Gerrard will continue giving evidence on Friday, when it is expected that his cross-examination will conclude.
The trial before Mr Justice Waksman, which is being heard at the Rolls Building in London and livestreamed to the Royal Courts of Justice, is expected to finish in September.