The saga surrounding the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) long-running probe into Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) took another twist this week as the multinational mining group filed a £70m High Court claim accusing the fraudbusting agency of misfeasance in public office.
In documents filed at the court ENRC describes the SFO’s conduct as ‘arbitrary, oppressive and/or unconstitutional'. ENRC has been the subject of an SFO investigation into alleged fraud, bribery and corruption. No charges have been brought and ENRC firmly denies all allegations against it.
Much of the claim centres around the relationship between the SFO and the international law firm Dechert – which previously advised ENRC - and a partner at the firm, Neil Gerrard. It is alleged that Gerrard passed confidential information to senior officials at the SFO.
Dechert and ENRC are engaged in separate litigation on that matter but the latest claim alleges the ‘inducement of Gerrard and/or Dechert to act in breach of contract and/or the fiduciary duties which, as solicitors, they owed to ENRC as their client.’
According to the complaint a ‘fair minded and independent investigator and prosecutor’ should have reported this conduct but instead the SFO encouraged and took advantage of it.
The claim also alleges misfeasance in public office involving an alleged failure by the SFO to ‘act in accordance with its powers, to act objectively, independently and in good faith, to preserve evidence, and to respect ENRC’s fundamental right to legal professional privilege’.
ENRC said it is seeking damages as well as a declaration that the SFO is not entitled to publish, disclose, divulge or otherwise make use of any confidential and privileged material belonging to ENRC which was disclosed to the SFO by Dechert and/or Gerrard.
The SFO declined to comment. An independent review into its handling of the investigation is ongoing.
A Dechert spokesperson declined to comment on the latest devleopment but has previously said of the matter: ‘We emphatically reject any suggestion of an improper relationship between Dechert/Neil Gerrard and the SFO or that there was any unauthorised disclosure of information to or from the SFO. The work we did during our investigation was with the authority of, and with the knowledge of, those who were instructing us at the time.’