(Bloomberg) -- The former head of Eurasian Natural Resources Corp.’s African operations was interviewed by U.K. prosecutors at the Serious Fraud Office this month as the agency appears to be stepping up its three-year-old bribery probe.
Victor Hanna, the ex-chief executive officer of ENRC’s African unit, spoke with investigators at the SFO, his lawyer said Friday. Hanna voluntarily met with prosecutors to assist with their understanding of a number of company transactions, the lawyer, David Byrne, said in response to questions from Bloomberg News.
The SFO opened an investigation in April 2013 over allegations bribes were paid to win business in Kazakhstan and Africa. That same year the company delisted from the London Stock Exchange and changed its name from Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. to Eurasian Resources Group. The SFO sought additional funding from the U.K. government for its investigation in recent months in a sign the agency was expanding its probe, around the same time it was carrying out another round of interviews with potential suspects.
“The SFO have interviewed a large number of individuals, possibly hundreds, including directors and employees of the company,” Byrne said. “The investigation has been ongoing for six years and appears no closer to a conclusion."
Law Firm Changes
The ENRC probe has been mired in litigation throughout after the company fired law firm Dechert in 2013 over a disputed 16.3 million-pound ($21.7 million) bill for advice during an internal fraud investigation. Dechert fought for the suit to be heard in public so it could clear its name, but a U.K. appeals court ruled in April the hearing must be in private because it could prejudice the company if SFO prosecutors obtained information from the case.
Byrne said that many of the issues Hanna discussed with the SFO related to prosecutors’ “flawed” interpretations of corporate transactions that were based upon exchanges with Dechert four years ago.
A spokesman for ERG said “we do not consider it appropriate to comment on any
aspect of the SFO investigation into ENRC at this time."
A spokeswoman for the SFO declined to comment.
After news of the investigation broke in 2013, Hanna took a voluntary leave of absence from the company before returning about six months later. He left the company in 2014.
ENRC was founded by businessman Alexander Mashkevitch, Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov in 1994 after the men acquired assets as part of the privatization process in Kazakhstan. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2007 with a market capitalization of about 6.8 billion pounds.