High Court finds Neil Gerrard committed ‘gross and knowing breach of duty’
A former partner in the City office of US law firm Dechert leaked damaging information about his own client to the press, the High Court has found.
Neil Gerrard was found to be in “gross and deliberate breach of duty” after planting stories about Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) while leading an internal investigation into alleged corruption at the company.
A spokesperson for Dechert said that Gerrard’s conduct was “completely at odds” with its values and normal standards of work.
ENRC, a mining conglomerate, has been under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for the last nine years. Gerrard acted for the company between 2011 and 2013, looking into allegations about dodgy dealings at a Kazakh subsidiary.
But Mr Justice Waksman found that he had leaked three different stories to the Times, Sunday Times and Financial Times, leading to the “unnecessary expansion of the investigation” and £13 million in fees for Dechert (excluding VAT and disbursements).
Referring to the first of the leaks, the judge said that he had “taken into account the point that for a solicitor instructed on behalf of a client to cause a leak of the kind in issue here is extremely serious conduct which it might be thought would be almost unimaginable in the case of a straightforward competent solicitor. I regret to say that I do not regard it as unimaginable in the case of Mr Gerrard. I accept that Mr Gerrard did indeed instigate the August Leak…”
The judge added that he had “lied continuously… there is no question of being mistaken”.
The motive was said to be both a “desire to fuel the work that needed to be done and also a separate desire to ingratiate himself with the SFO for personal reasons, unconnected with ENRC”.
Gerrard, a former police officer and leading light in white-collar crime, comes in for excoriating criticism throughout the 386-page judgment.
Waksman wrote that “in general I found him to be a highly unreliable and at times dishonest witness. His evidence was often inconsistent with the documents or implausible, and on more than one occasion, he was plainly lying”.
Elsewhere, the judge says that “he was so obsessed with making money from his work that he lost any real sense of objectivity, proportion or indeed loyalty to his client”. Gerrard was also found to have been professionally negligent in seven different ways.
The SFO doesn’t come out of the mammoth case well either, with two senior ex-employees found to have been “lying” to the court.
Gerrard issued the following statement through a spokesperson:
“I and my family are devastated by today’s judgment. After over 30 untainted years as a solicitor, I remain sure of the appropriateness of my actions, of my advice in relation to my former client and of my personal and professional integrity. I gave evidence to the best of my ability and believed I was telling the truth at all times. I would like to thank Dechert for their support.”
A spokesperson for Dechert said: “We recognise fully the seriousness of the judge’s findings in relation to Mr. Gerrard’s conduct. We are considering the judgment to see what we should learn from it. Trust among partners is integral to any partnership, and throughout this litigation, Dechert has always acted in good faith in reliance on the assurances given to us by our former partner.”
They added: “The court has now found Mr. Gerrard to have committed conduct, which is completely at odds, not only with our values, ethos, and culture as a firm, but also with the high ethical and professional standards adhered to on a daily basis by our lawyers the world over.”
An SFO spokesperson added: “We welcome that the judge found against ENRC for the majority of its allegations against the SFO. We are considering the implications of this lengthy and complex judgement for the SFO and other law enforcement authorities.”
The amount of any damages has yet to be decided.
For all the latest commercial awareness info, news and careers advice:Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter