A negligence claim against international firm Dechert is ‘the stuff of conspiracy theories’, falsely casting the firm’s ex-head of white-collar crime as a ‘greedy, dishonest, corrupt, incompetent charlatan’, the commercial court has heard.

Kazakh-based mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) has brought a negligence claim against Dechert and Neil Gerrard, former global co-head of white-collar crime. The Serious Fraud Office is also a respondent in the case. The claim relates to ENRC’s retainer of Dechert and Gerrard between 2011 and 2013, when Gerrard was retained to conduct an internal investigation into allegations of wrongdoing concerning a subsidiary.

For Dechert, Andrew Onslow QC described ENRC’s claim as a story ‘made up by some highly skilful, ingenious lawyers’. He told Mr Justice Waksman that Gerrard did not eak or conspire to leak confidential documents; did not conspire with the SFO to bring them ENRC as a ‘scalp’; and did not initiate, expand or prolong his investigation into the mining company to inflate his fees. ‘It’s ultimately an untrue reconstruction of documents events and circumstances,’ he said. 

In oral submissions, Onslow argued that it was ‘thoroughly unrealistic’ to think that the launch of the SFO’s criminal investigation into ENRC would not have taken place had Gerrard not made contact. ‘The SFO had the information sufficient to warrant the opening of a criminal investigation from many other sources.’

He added that ENRC had misunderstood and misrepresented the self-reporting process, and ‘repeatedly ignore and misrepresent documents, facts and events, and take little or no account of the real, inherent probabilities’. He also stressed that ENRC exercised ‘control and very demanding oversight’ over Dechert’s investigation.

In its opening submissions on Monday, ENRC argued that Gerrard was motivated by ‘money and greed’ and expanded the ENRC investigation to cover ‘all and sundry’ in order to expand his billing. It alleged that the solicitor made unauthorised contact with SFO prompting a ‘volte face’ on the part of the watchdog.

The trial continues.