Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. opened another front in its battle with Britain’s Serious Fraud Office on Wednesday when it brought claims in a London court against the former prime minister of Kazakhstan.
The Kazak mining giant accused former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin of securing confidential and privileged information about ENRC and leaking it to the company’s “political and business adversaries” — chief among them the SFO, which started investigating ENRC in 2013 over allegations of fraud, corruption and bribery.
“On the pretext of acting as the political opposition in Kazakhstan, the defendant in fact acted (and continues to act) to this day with the objective, directly or through intermediaries, of disseminating such information … with the goal of damaging and destabilising the claimant,” according to the complaint. ENRC describes Kazhegeldin, who fled to London in 1998 after opposing the recently resigned first president of Kazakhstan, as the “focal point” in the spread of confidential ENRC information through exchanges that took place in the U.K., U.S. and Kazakhstan since 2012.
According to the suit, Kazhegeldin met in 2012 with a computer forensics expert who’d contracted with ENRC from 2007 until 2011 for a number of IT security and forensic data collection projects. In the course of his work with the ENRC, the expert pulled substantial amounts of confidential information from ENRC’s computers but illegally retained it even after his work for the company was done, the ENRC claims.
The complaint notes that the expert was supervised on a 2011 internal investigation by one of ENRC’s former lawyers, Dechert LLP partner Neil Gerrard. In March, the miner launched a £70 million ($87.4 million) lawsuit accusing the SFO of inducing ENRC’s former lawyers to share confidential information on its business dealings in Kazakhstan and Africa, and specifically alleging that Gerrard leaked confidential legal memos.
The SFO suit came after the mining company won a landmark legal battle against the SFO in September, when the Court of Appeal ruled that the SFO could not review documents and advice that its former lawyers provided to ENRC before the agency’s probe.
Sometime in 2012 and 2013, Kazhegeldin allegedly asked the computer forensic expert to access his copied ENRC data and pull documents that would then be turned over to an unnamed client in exchange for a $50,000 payment, with $40,000 going to the expert and the rest landing with Kazhegeldin.
The complaint further alleges that Kazhegeldin obtained confidential information from British journalist Mark Hollingsworth around the same !me period. At the end of June, the ENRC claimed in a Maryland federal court that Hollingsworth recently admitted that a September 2017 article he wrote about ENRC was sourced from a former newspaper editor, Phillip van Niekerk, who the ENRC in turn alleges to have been tipped off by the SFO.
According to Wednesday’s suit, Hollingsworth obtained highly detailed information about the SFO investigation as early as 2012, and given Kazhegeldin’s “substantial interest” in the SFO investigation as well as the timing of certain meetings between Hollingsworth and Kazhegeldin, the ENRC infers that the pair were sharing confidential information about the investigation.
The ENRC claims that privileged information collected by Kazhegeldin has been disseminated to the miner’s litigation opponents, Kazhegeldin’s contacts within the Kazak government and the SFO. The company alleges that Kazhegeldin helped incite the U.K.‘s top white collar cop to pursue its probe into the ENRC.
The miner is seeking damages for the misuse of the information and for Kazhegeldin to be barred from disclosing it any further. It further seeks an accounting of the confidential information that the former prime minister disseminated and confirmation that the information has been deleted.
The implication of Kazakhstan’s former prime minister only widens the conflict between the ENRC and the SFO. The white-collar crime agency has been investigating the ENRC since 2013 over its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kazakhstan, but the ENRC has called for a judicial investigation into the agency’s handling of the probe.
The miner’s lawsuit against the SFO prompted the agency to pause an independent inquiry into its ENRC investigation, though the company has since demanded that it be restarted.
HM Crown Prosecution Inspectorate, the U.K.‘s prosecution oversight body, released a report on Monday deeply criticizing the SFO, saying its focus on delivering casework has led to a culture that has created a “tolerance of neglectful approaches to management” or in some cases “of unacceptable behaviors.”
Counsel for the ENRC and representatives for the Serious Fraud Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening. Contact information for Kazhegeldin was not available. ENRC is represented by Justin Michaelson of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP.
Counsel information for Kazhegeldin wasn’t immediately available.
The case is Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. Ltd. v. Ake-Jean Qajygeldin f.k.a. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, case number BL-2019–001337, in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.
Author: By Dean Seal
Additional reporting by Christopher Crosby.
Editing by Michael Watanabe.