The High Court has awarded the UK arm of natural resources company China Molybdenum Company (CMOC) £7m, in a case in which a worldwide freezing injunction against ‘persons unknown’ was approved for the first time.

In CMOC v Persons Unknown [2018] EWHC 2230 (Comm), handed down on 20 September, His Honour Judge Waksman upheld CMOC’s claims against 28 individuals as well as ‘persons unknown’ for the recovery of money stolen through online fraud.

The court ordered the repayment of stolen money, awarded damages of approximately £7m and legal costs.

Earlier in the year, the court ordered a worldwide freezing injunction over the assets of ‘persons unknown’ - the first reported one of its kind to be granted in England & Wales against alleged annonymous perpetrators. Previously, these types of injunctions had been restricted to cases including online libel.

CMOC sought a freezing injunction against people who had hacked into its email system and fraudulently diverted millions of pounds into bank accounts around the world. Although the account owners were not traceable CMOC sought to restrain the bank accounts to which the monies had been transferred.

In judgment Waksman said a development such as this ‘reflects the need for the procedural armoury of the court to be sufficient’ to meet challenges posed by the modern electronic methods of communication and doing business.

The injunction required 35 international and overseas banks in at least 19 jurisdictions to freeze the assets of the individuals and allegedly stolen funds, and to reveal the identity of the alleged fraudsters and the details of any onward transfers. The next stage will be to enforce the £7m judgment in various jurisdictions and investigate the individuals involved.

CMOC was advised by dispute resolution firm Cooke, Young & Keidan (CYK) who instructed counsel from 20 Essex Street and 3 Verulam Buildings.

Philip Young, partner at CYK, said: ‘Online crime of this kind is becoming increasingly common and it is not always easy to identify the perpetrators in order to serve an injunction upon them and to take effective steps to recover assets. We are very pleased that the Commercial Court was open to our creative approaches to tracing the funds and identifying the perpetrators and believe that this demonstrates the primacy of London as the leading jurisdiction of choice for effective dispute resolution globally.’

Paul Lowenstein QC, of 20 Essex Street, said: ‘This litigation demonstrates the willingness of the London Commercial Court to work with the victim of a novel form of cyber-fraud to provide effective and flexible remedies that allowed much of the stolen money to be rapidly frozen around the world, information regarding its whereabouts to be ordered from banks in many overseas.'