By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON, May 25 (Reuters) – A lawsuit against law firm Dechert and the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched by ENRC, a mining company at the centre of an eight-year British corruption investigation, is the “stuff of conspiracy theories”, a London trial heard on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Dechert and its former senior partner Neil Gerrard alleged that ENRC misrepresented documents and events, took little account of probability and leapt from suspicion to accusation to fabricate a tale of malpractice and malfeasance.
Andrew Onslow dismissed ENRC’s allegations that Gerrard, hired by ENRC in 2010 to carry out an internal investigation into a whistleblowing report, conspired with senior SFO contacts to damage ENRC, deliberately expanded or prolonged his own investigation and leaked privileged material.
Gerrard was a respected, leading lawyer who had done his “very best for his client from start to finish” and had wanted to help the company avoid a criminal investigation by engaging with the SFO’s self-reporting process, Onslow said.
“He (Gerrard) is not a greedy, dishonest, corrupt, incompetent charlatan,” he told the second day of the 11-week trial.
ENRC’s lawyer alleged earlier that Gerrard wanted to milk his client for fat, unnecessary fees and that he fed details of “unsubstantiated titbits” to senior SFO contacts to “drop-feed poison” about his client to protect his own SFO relationship.
ENRC, which was co-founded by three billionaire Kazakh businessmen and the Kazakh government, alleges the SFO incited and encouraged Gerrard’s conduct because it was “desperate” to secure a high-profile corporate settlement or prosecution.
The SFO, which has faced stinging criticism over the collapse of a separate prosecution last month, stands accused of misfeasance in public office. The agency, which will start laying out its defence on Wednesday, rejects all claims against it as “hopeless”, according to court filings.
ENRC, which fired Dechert in 2013 after paying fees of more than $18 million, is seeking public vindication and multi- million pound damages for “very significant losses”.
The SFO opened an investigation into ENRC in 2013 over allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption surrounding the acquisition of mineral assets in Africa. No charges have been filed against the company or current or former officers.
($1 = 0.7048 pounds) (Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
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