LONDON (WithinTheLaw) - The Serious Fraud Office and Eversheds Sutherland have been castigated by the judge for their failure to meet a deadline for the disclosure of documents in a long running dispute with the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC).
The long running dispute revolves around the activities of Dechert’s outgoing head of white collar crime, Neil Gerrard, who has been accused of handing confidential information over to the SFO. The parties are currently preparing for a trial which is due to be heard in June 2021.
The SFO, which is being instructed by a team from Eversheds, has been ordered to disclose certain documents relating to its investigation into the ENRC, but they have applied for a further extension, having previously been granted two.
The SFO had been given until the 18th of September to file the relevant documents they wanted to disclose, but that it seems has not been enough. They asked for an extension saying it will be able to file some of the documents by October 16 and 30 but will need until November 27 for the bulk of the documents.
The request has not gone down well. Nathan Pillow QC criticised the SFO for failing to work quickly enough and not tapping into the full resources Eversheds could have provided.
“It has belatedly occurred to the SFO that they cannot complete the task with the resources they have put into it,” he said adding that Dechert and Hogan Lovells agreed with ENRC in a rare show of solidarity.
Justice Waksman reluctantly reset the deadlines to the middle and end of October, but he rejected the application to extend the deadline all the way to the end of November.
He noted that Dechert and Gerrard had made their disclosures by the June deadline. The update that Eversheds had provided in June was, he said, ‘unsatisfactory’ and had not said there might be a difficulty in meeting the September deadline.
“If they did not think there was a need for an extension, it is remarkable,” he added, “because a month later they asked for the extension.”
He pointed out that Eversheds could have supplied more resources to the SFO who have not started reviewing which documents need to be redacted. The reason given has been that the SFO wants to undertake the work themselves to avoid putting too much strain on Eversheds.
It ‘beggars belief,’ he said, that a global law firm such as Eversheds would not be able to take on more work.
In a statement ENRC said: “This is a serious setback for the SFO, who have dragged their feet from the beginning of this whole process and were rightly admonished by Justice Waksman for their desultory approach to disclosure. It is frankly astonishing that a public body has breached the deadline set out by the court, and it is clear that the delay was caused by the SFO’s discomfort in investigating their own wrongdoing.”
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)