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Lawyer Acted Recklessly When He Informed on ENRC to SFO (1)

May 16, 2022, 1:16 PM

A criminal defense lawyer at the heart of a bitter dispute between a Kazakh miner and UK prosecutors acted in “reckless breach of duty,” when he gave up information on his own client to the Serious Fraud Office, a London judge ruled.

Neil Gerrard, an ex-Dechert LLP lawyer who represented Eurasian Natural Resources Corp., was accused of colluding with the UK’s SFO to build a criminal case against the Kazakh miner he advised. The allegations were pored over during an 11-week trial that saw Gerrard accused of lying in court about his knowledge of a whistle blower.

Judge David Waksman said Gerrard was in breach of duty when he took part in a number of meetings with the SFO, in a summary of the judgment published Monday. The judge also found him “negligent” and “for the most part reckless” in giving the wrong advice about ENRC’s potential criminal liability and failing to protect his client’s privilege.

ENRC said it welcomed the ruling but warned of the implications for anyone being investigated by the SFO.

The London court battle is part of a near decade-long fight that’s involved several lawsuits and a nine-year criminal investigation into ENRC. The probe, one of the SFO’s longest, is focused on allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption around the acquisition of substantial mineral assets. No charges have been brought and ENRC denies any wrongdoing.

“I and my family are devastated by today’s judgment,” Gerrard said following the ruling. “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.”

The SFO was found to be in breach its own rules in about half of the 30 contacts with Gerrard including taking information from him that was “plainly unauthorized and against his client’s interests,” the judge said. Several other allegations about the SFO’s conduct during the probe were dismissed.

“We welcome that the judge found against ENRC for the majority of its allegations against the SFO,” the prosecutor said. “We are considering the implications of this lengthy and complex judgment for the SFO and other law enforcement authorities.”

ENRC is seeking £70 million ($85.6 million) pounds from the prosecutor and potentially hundreds of millions more for money it says it spent on legal fees for internal investigations and defense. The amount of damages will be decided at a later date.

“We repeatedly urged both Dechert and the SFO to examine the evidence, and to draw the obvious conclusions,” a spokesperson for ENRC said. “At every turn, we were rebuffed, and both Dechert’s and the SFO’s leadership chose, at great expense, to defend the indefensible.”

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“We recognize fully the seriousness of the judge’s findings in relation to Mr. Gerrard’s conduct,” Dechert said. “We are considering the judgment to see what we should learn from it.”

(Updates with Gerrard’s statement in sixth paragraph)

--With assistance from Ellen Milligan.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Katharine Gemmell in London at kgemmell2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jeremy Hodges at jhodges17@bloomberg.net

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.