A state hacking claim involving international firm Dechert has been dismissed by the High Court. However, allegations that a partner at the practice committed human rights abuses in the Middle East remain unresolved.

In RAKIA v Azima, airline tycoon Farhad Azima alleged that his emails had been hacked and published on the dark web by RAKIA, the sovereign investment fund of the UAE’s northernmost emirate Ras al-Khaimah. His assertion formed part of a counter-claim and defence to allegations of fraud brought by the emirate.

Dechert partner Neil Gerrard, who acted for RAKIA, was named in the hacking claim and accused of threatening Azima days before his personal information was published on the internet. Gerrard gave evidence to the High Court in January during a four-week hearing.

In judgment, Andrew Lenon QC, sitting as a deputy judge of the Chancery Division, said ’the facts supporting the inference that RAKIA was responsible for the hacking are far from conclusive and the improbable features of Mr Azima’s case can only be explained away on the basis of speculative assumptions for which there is no sufficiently firm evidence’. 

The judgment added that there was not ‘sufficiently cogent evidence’ to establish a conspiracy between the RAKIA witnesses, including Gerrard.

On Gerrard’s allegedly threatening behaviour towards Azima, Lenon J said: ‘I can well believe that Mr Gerrard conducted the meeting in a forceful and even aggressive way.’ However, he found that the white collar crime partner did not threaten to make Azima ‘collateral damage’.

During proceedings in January, Gerrard was also cross-examined about his involvement in the questioning of prisoners in the Middle East. It was alleged he carried out aggressive and unlawful interrogations of detainees and attempted to extort money from them, a claim which he denies.

However, Lenon J said: ‘On the basis of the material before me, I am not in a position to make any findings in relation to those allegations or other allegations of misconduct extraneous to the events in issue in these proceedings that were put to Mr Gerrard.’

In April, Dechert and Gerrard – along with two current and former partners – were accused of torture by a Jordanian lawyer, who claimed he had been kidnapped, interrogated and placed in solitary confinement for 560 days during an investigation conducted by the firm into RAKIA. 

A spokesperson for Azima described the judgment as a 'hackers' charter' and said Azima intends to appeal.

The civil claim continues.


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