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Top City lawyer rejects hacking allegations in wealth fund dispute

Allegations part of a civil lawsuit involving Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority

A top City litigator has rejected as “preposterous” the allegation that he relied upon hacked emails to build a case against a US businessman in a dispute with a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund.

Neil Gerrard, a senior lawyer at Dechert, was testifying at London’s High Court on Tuesday in the latest case to put the murky worlds of corporate investigations and cyber crime under scrutiny. The trial, which began last week, pits Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), the sovereign wealth fund of one of the seven United Arab Emirates and a client of Mr Gerrard, against US businessman Farhad Azima.

RAKIA is suing Mr Azima for £3.7m for alleged fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract over a hotel deal that collapsed in 2016. It has also accused Mr Azima of engaging in a campaign to ‘maliciously denigrate’ the reputation of the nation. Mr Azima denies those allegations, and has accused RAKIA of hacking a stash of his emails in a counterclaim. On Tuesday Mr Azima’s barrister, Tim Lord QC, asked Mr Gerrard if he was aware that Mr Azima’s emails had been subject to a hack in 2015. Mr Gerrard said he was not. In a heated exchange, Mr Lord said “you were aware of the confidential information that had been procured illegally from Mr Azima’s email records . . . you thought you were on to something.”

Mr Gerrard told the court: “I’d like to deny that. It is preposterous . . . you are suggesting I had a secret little stash of Mr Azima’s documents which I could select at will to identify frauds.

How would I do that? How do I pull this stuff down?” Mr Azima has also accused Mr Gerrard of threatening him and directing “shadowy agents” in RAKIA’s “offensive” against him. The case is not the only High Court battle Mr Gerrard has become embroiled in. The lawyer has been accused of wrongdoing by his former client, Kazakh miner ENRC, which has been under investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office since 2013.

The Kazakh mining company has waged a legal fight against Dechert, its former law firm, and the SFO. It has sued the SFO for £70m over the way it handled its investigation, while ENRC has also alleged that Mr Gerrard facilitated a leak of confidential documents to the SFO. The SFO, Mr Gerrard and Dechert have vigorously denied these allegations. At the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Gerrard also faced questions about his role in alleged human rights abuses in RAK — one of seven emirates that make up the UAE — that Mr Azima claimed to have uncovered.

Mr Gerrard was “orchestrating” secret prisons where suspects were being detained without due process, Mr Azima has alleged in court filings. In its own filings with the court, RAKIA described the claims as “manifestly absurd.” Mr Gerrard told the court that he had interviewed at least one detainee in RAK in a prison, but said the interviews were conducted with the agreement of the suspect’s lawyers. He said the interviews were not conducted on behalf of the UAE. The case continues.


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