U.K. Fraud Cops Rebuff Claims They Were Desperate for Conviction

The U.K.’s fraud prosecutor rebuffed claims it cozied up to a defense lawyer to try to secure a much-needed high profile conviction, in a trial that threatens its reputation in the face of mounting criticism.

The Serious Fraud Office is being sued by Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. for 70 million pounds ($99 million) over claims it colluded with the company’s ex-lawyer to bring a criminal probe against the company. The SFO denies the claims.

“The idea that the director of the SFO would be motivated deliberately to breach a company’s privilege” as a result of its past record “is outlandish,” Simon Colton, the prosecutor’s lawyer, said in court on Thursday.

He rejected ENRC’s claims the prosecutor deliberately destroyed evidence and a poor track record made investigators “desperate” for a conviction.

The trial comes at a thorny time in the prosecutor’s history. In recent weeks, it dropped its probe into former Airbus SE directors and was dealt a humiliating setback after its trial against two former Serco Group Plc directors collapsed.

The London court battle marks significant milestone in the near decade-long fight that’s involved several lawsuits and an eight-year criminal investigation into ENRC. The probe, one of the SFO’s longest, is focused on allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption around the acquisition of substantial mineral assets. No charges have been brought and ENRC denies any wrongdoing.

‘Careless’

A missing beige notebook belonging to one of the SFO’s former investigators, which ENRC alleges was deliberately destroyed, was a more a result of “carelessness than conspiracy,” Colton said.

“Someone somewhere made a mistake,” he said. “Perhaps it was put on the shredding pile by a careless secretary.”

The miner is also suing its ex-lawyer Neil Gerrard for money it says it spent on legal fees for internal investigations and defense.

Gerrard’s lawyer, Andrew Onslow, said in court that ENRC’s case “is the stuff of conspiracy theory” and the company’s characterization of Gerrard as “a greedy dishonest corrupt incompetent charlatan” is false.

“The reality is ENRC found itself facing a criminal investigation in 2013 not because it hired Mr. Gerrard” but because it fired Dechert, he said referring to Gerrard’s former law firm.

The SFO didn’t respond to a request for comment. ENRC declined to comment.

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