Black Cube and the Murky World of Corporate Espionage

Austerity has opened a gap in the market for corporate espionage who increasingly find themselves on the front line against corruption.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

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LONDON (Within the Law) - The dark world of corporate intelligence has found itself blinking uncomfortably in the spotlight in recent times, with several high-profile cases hitting the headlines. One of these came courtesy of the Financial Times which ran an interview with the latest Adrian Leppard, a former policeman who has joined the advisory board of corporate intelligence firm Black Cube. This firm is paid by large corporations to deliver intelligence on their rivals or adversaries in disputes. 

Demand for these organisations is rising thanks to austerity. With police and other investigative organisations struggling under limited budgets, these firms are stepping into the breach. Black Cube, and other firms, have been used to uncover evidence of criminal wrongdoing, corruption and bribery in the corporate world. 

However, this is a shadowy operation where the limits of ethics and the law are regularly tested. 

Black Cube has faced more controversy than most. It attracted widespread condemnation when it was revealed Harvey Weinstein hired the firm to stop the abuse allegations being made against him. It spied on Weinstein’s accusers and assisted in attempts to discredit them. Meanwhile, in Romania, two of its employees were convicted of criminal charges involving hacking and harassment. 

They aren’t the only firm to be caught up in controversy. In 2019, Credit Suisse was rocked by a corporate espionage scandal that led to the resignation of its Chief Executive. An ongoing case between Dechert and Kazakh mining company ENRC has also brought some of the shadier aspects of corporate espionage into the spotlight, much of which has been covered in Bywire. 

ENRC is currently suing Dechert and its former Head of White Collar Crime Neil Gerrard for handing confidential information to the Serious Fraud Office during an investigation into bribery at the company. Gerrard, meanwhile, is suing ENRC for hiring corporate espionage to spy on him and his wife. He alleges the company mishandled his private data, spied on their home and harassed him and his wife. 

Gerrard also faces allegations of abuse in another case involving the Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority. A detainee alleges that Gerrard and colleagues from Dechert used unlawful interrogation techniques to force a confession out of him while he was imprisoned in the Emirates. 

In his interview with the FT, Adrian Leppard insists Black Cube has changed its ways and instituted a code of ethics. However, he does claim that deception and undercover operations can sometimes be legal and appropriate. 

To support his case, he points to Black Cube’s role in uncovering corruption in the Mexican oil industry. Using a team of former Mossad spies, Black Cube uncovered a general bribery scheme inside the oil company Pemex. 

This is the kind of work firms like Black Cube increasingly find themselves getting involved with. They are filling the holes left by underfunded government organisations and have succeeded in exposing corporate wrongdoing around the world. 

At the same time, recent stories show the shadowy world these businesses operate in. When private provide services for profit, inevitably they will sometimes find themselves pushing the boundaries of what most could consider ethical and appropriate. 

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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