A solicitor who acted for the embattled mining firm ENRC has been accused of lying to the high court in order to cover up assisting a long-running Serious Fraud Office investigation into his own client.
Neil Gerrard, 66, a retired partner at the City law firm Dechert, admitted he had “failed in his duty” to pass on crucial information to the former FTSE 100 company, which is suing the lawyer and the law firm for colluding with the SFO on the case.
The solicitor, who is also a former police officer, previously told the court that he had no knowledge of ENRC’s former head of global compliance, Cary Depel, being interviewed by the SFO.
The mining company’s barrister, Clare Montgomery QC, said the omission was “a deliberate untruth and [that Gerrard had] lied to the court” – after which Gerrard was told by Mr Justice Waksman that he had “the right not to answer” questions about his previous evidence.
Presenting a series of newly disclosed text messages that were sent to Gerrard in 2012, Montgomery told the court that the solicitor received a message in May of that year from Depel that stated: “Only you and the two know about the section 2 [interview]”.
A section 2 interview is the means by which the SFO compels an individual to answer questions that it deems relevant to an ongoing investigation. ENRC did not know Depel was providing evidence to the investigators.
Gerrard said he could not recall the texts and he had been suffering from long Covid and amnesia, but he acknowledged he had not informed his client about the interview. The “two” mentioned in the text message are thought to refer to a pair of senior members of the SFO.
“I did not tell [ENRC] and I failed in that duty,” he said. “They weren’t on notice so they couldn’t react.”
The SFO launched a criminal investigation into ENRC in 2013 after the then FTSE 100 miner had been beset by corruption allegations.
The move followed efforts by the company to conduct its own investigation, run by Dechert and Gerrard, into allegations made by a whistleblower relating to its Kazakhstan and African businesses, the findings of which the company had been reporting to the SFO.
Montgomery accused Gerrard of leaking information to the press and falsely telling ENRC that it was about to be raided by the SFO in order to increase the scope of his own investigation and to bill higher fees.
“You put the interests of you and Dechert first to make more money,” she said. Gerrard denied the allegations.
She also said the solicitor had shown a “complete disregard to provide the court” with accurate information about his mobile phones, after presenting internal Dechert records that showed Gerrard had needed to have his electronic devices replaced 10 times, which she suggested meant he treated his devices as disposable “burner phones”.
“I agree this was not covered properly [in his evidence],” Gerrard said.
The case continues.