"I can assure the court I only own one tie." (Not his actual defence, which was worse.)
Dechert and its former head of white-collar crime, Neil Gerrard, committed deliberate acts of wrongdoing, a court has found.
The verdict is the culmination of over a decade of twists and turns since Dechert was instructed by mining conglomerate Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation to review a whistleblower's allegations in 2010 that the company's operations in Kazakhstan were riven with corruption. The source alleged that ENRC's local directors had taken monthly kickbacks of up to $300,000, and were buying shoddy machinery for ENRC from their relatives at vastly inflated prices.
Dechert was sacked in 2013 when ENRC accused Gerrard, a former Met Police officer, of wrongly expanding the scope of his investigation in order to generate more fees. The High Court has now agreed, finding that the firm's rainmaking partner leaked information to the newspapers and liaised with the Serious Fraud Office, without his client's knowledge, in order to give it ammunition that would in turn create more work for the firm.
As a result of his backstabbing approach to client care, Dechert's bill swelled to £13 million when, argued ENRC, it should have been no more than £2 million.
Gerrard was "so obsessed with making money from his work that he lost any real sense of objectivity, proportion or indeed loyalty to his client", said Mr Justice Waksman. That was evident in an email Gerrard wrote to a US Dechert partner, telling him, "we have found great incriminating evidence - so good". The judge remarked, "One would have thought that if they found nothing untoward in the Kazakhstan operations, that would be a good result".
Gerrard's strategy was to "kick-start" more substantial work for Dechert by "increasing the prospect that the SFO would become involved", causing "a large amount of work to be done which would lead to a self-report and some form of civil settlement", said the court. To prod the SFO into widening its probe, Gerrard leaked damaging sections of his investigation to the papers, even though it was "plainly against ENRC’s interests".
His plot involved working with a 'security consultant' called Cameron Findlay, who at one point collected a sealed envelope from Dechert's London reception containing documents prepared by Gerrard, which was passed to another security consultant in a clandestine meeting in a park, and then provided to a journalist.
Findlay testified that he met Gerrard in a coffee shop the day after the SFO informed ENRC that it was looking into the allegations contained in the newspaper article, where he found the partner "rubbing his hands and saying 'right boys, I’m in rape mode'", and crowing that he was going to "screw these fuckers for 25 million".
Referring to the "shocking" ‘rape mode’ expression, the judge said, "it is so obviously appalling that one has to question whether it is really likely that a solicitor would use it, especially in a restaurant where others might overhear". Gerrard denied the allegation, while the judge conceded that Findlay, who received fees amounting to over £1.1 million from ENRC to give evidence during the marathon case, was "capable of lying when it suited him". However, "I regret to say that Mr Gerrard, being the volatile character that he is, was in my view capable of saying it", said Waksman J.
Gerrard's testimony came with a high entertainment value. In an exchange that was later presented by ENRC as proof of his lack of integrity, he claimed that he was unaware that ENRC's "disaffected" head of compliance at the time, Cary Depel, had also secretly fed information to the SFO. Gerrard told the court it would have been a "huge" issue if he had known about Capel's actions and not informed his client.
However, halfway through the trial, Dechert, which had initially assured the court that it had "extremely limited" and "trivial" texts from Gerrard's work phones, suddenly disclosed over 600 messages, including texts from Depel to Gerrard stating "only u and 2 know about s2”, and, "I would like to meet Dick [an SFO officer] early next week, can you arrange?"
Confronted with the incriminating messages while he was giving evidence, Gerrard returned to the stand after a short break to declare that his wife had reminded him that he suffered from bouts of "global amnesia". He claimed the condition, for which no medical evidence was provided, must have wiped all knowledge of the matter from his mind.
That was "wholly implausible", said Mr Justice Waksman, who concluded that Gerrard had "lied" and was a "highly unreliable and at times dishonest witness". Dechert was compelled to submit a "Re-Re-Amended defence" admitting that Gerrard, and through him, the firm, had acted recklessly.
His ego drove him to make extravagant claims, said the court. On one occasion, Gerrard allegedly promised an SFO officer that he could get him a “big fuck off job” at Dechert. "I have to say that I think this is the sort of remark which Mr Gerrard might very well have made", said the judge. Gerrard's boasts extended to his profile on Dechert's website, which asserted with "no evidence" that he was once "shortlisted to be Director of the SFO".
Gerrard was caught in another fib when he testified that, when he was headhunted by Dechert from DLA Piper in 2011, "at no stage...did I indicate how much I would bill or generate". Emails promptly surfaced which showed Dechert partners in the US discussing how their hot new hire was promising he could walk over $20-$30 million in fees from DLA Piper.
A “prescient” London Dechert partner did ring an alarm bell about Gerrard's character before he was recruited. "Just a short note on Neil Gerrard with whom I understand we are in an advanced stage of discussions", the unidentified partner told his colleagues. "The DLA team did not come across as an elite group in the many meetings I spent on the opposite side of the table to them", he said. "If you had asked me or AlixPartners at the time whether the advice Neil’s team was giving was unduly negative and to an extent scaremongering in order to increase DLA’s fees the answer would have been a resounding yes". His warning was ignored.
The court ruled that Gerrard, and Dechert through Gerrard's conduct, instigated all three leaks to the papers. It found that Gerrard's multiple secret meetings with the SFO constituted "at least" reckless breaches of duty. He was also found to have been negligent and reckless in relation to numerous matters, including the provision of incorrect advice to ENRC on multiple occasions and the unnecessary expansion of his investigation.
"Gerrard was prepared, when it suited him, to act in a way which was completely contrary to his client’s interests", said the judge.
Dechert's defence appeared to rely largely on technical escape routes to do with limitations of liability in its engagement letter and time bars, all of which were tossed aside by the judge. After the verdict, the firm was quick to distance itself from Gerrard and emphasise his responsibility for the debacle.
"We recognise fully the seriousness of the judge’s findings in relation to Mr. Gerrard’s conduct", said a spokesperson for Dechert. "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", said the firm, gently lowering Gerrard into the path of the speeding bus. "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."
Gerrard said in his own statement, "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. This is my only comment at this time".
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