ENRC case against Dechert and SFO ‘the stuff of conspiracy theories’, lawyers claim

A case brought by mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation against Dechert and one of its ex-partners is the “stuff of conspiracy theories”, cooked up after the law firm’s investigation threatened the interests of the “Kazakhstan-based oligarchs” who controlled the company, a court heard.

ENRC has taken Dechert and one of its former lawyers Neil Gerrard to court, accusing them of ramping up Dechert’s investigation into ENRC via secret contact with the Serious Fraud Office and leaking confidential information to the media.

The mining firm has also accused the SFO of encouraging Gerrard’s alleged misconduct. Dechert, Gerrard and the SFO deny wrongdoing.

The case presented by ENRC’s barrister on 24 and 25 May in London’s Commercial Court was, “the stuff of conspiracy theories”, Dechert’s barrister Andrew Onslow QC told the court following a lunch recess on 25 May.

READ Ex-Dechert partner in ENRC v SFO case motivated by ‘money and greed’, court hears

“It involves the weaving of bits of documents, and some circumstantial so-called evidence into a complete narrative,” he said.

Onslow claimed that Dechert and Gerrard had been fired by ENRC in 2013, and subsequently attacked in the courts and the press, because their corruption investigation had threatened the three businessmen who were the powers behind the company.

Alexander Mashkevich, Alijan Ibragimov and Patokh Chodiev, known as “the trio”, are described in Dechert’s skeleton argument as “three Kazakhstan-based oligarchs who continued to hold 44.7% of the shares” in the company following its 2007 London float.

The three delisted the company in November 2013 amid governance concerns and regulatory enquiries.

They remain majority owners of ENRC via a Luxembourg holding company, Dechert’s skeleton argument said.

The SFO launched a formal criminal investigation into ENRC in April 2013 that is still ongoing.

Dechert recommended in spring 2013 that the company suspend Victor Hanna, “the kingpin” of ENRC’s Africa operation according to Onslow, and dismiss Jason Spiteri, the chief financial officer of the company’s Africa business. 

Onslow claimed this was what led to Dechert’s firing by ENRC.

“Dechert were dismissed, not because they were incompetent, not because they had done anything wrong,” Onslow said. “But because they had recommended… the suspension of Mr Hanna, who was then or was to become the son-in-law of Mr Chodiev, one of the trio.” 

READ Ex-Dechert lawyer ‘threw his client under the bus’ to salvage ties with SFO, court hears

“That recommendation had so upset the powers that be that lie behind ENRC that they had demanded Dechert’s immediate removal,” Onslow said.

“They then concocted a charge list against Dechert, which has formed the basis… of the attack on Dechert and in particular… the campaign that has been run against Mr Gerrard since 2013,” Onslow said.

“ENRC’s story, the gloss, the narrative… is just made up,” he added.

Onslow denied that Gerrard had leaked documents to the press, he denied that Gerrard conspired with the SFO to “bring them ENRC’s scalp”, and he denied that Gerrard deliberately prolonged his firm’s investigation to ramp up Dechert’s fees.

“He is not a greedy, dishonest, corrupt, incompetent charlatan,” Onslow said of Gerrard.

The case continues.

To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email James Booth

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