By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON - A former top Dechert lawyer on Monday dismissed as "bonkers" allegations he had conspired not to tell mining company ENRC, his former client, that the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) wanted to compel a senior employee to attend an interview.
Neil Gerrard, accused by ENRC in a London High Court trial of plotting with senior SFO officers to damage his client, milking ENRC for unnecessary fees and leaking privileged material, said it was ridiculous to suggest he and his team had witheld information from ENRC after an SFO meeting in 2012.
"I think it's bonkers," he told the court on the first day of an expected six-day cross-examination. "Complete bonkers."
Gerrard, hired by ENRC in 2010 to carry out an internal investigation into a whistleblowing report, denied allegations that he had leaked sensitive information or that he "terrorised" ENRC by suggesting they could be raided by the authorities.
"Raid procedures or dealing with unannounced visits were, in our view, ... sensible risk management procedures," he said. "It helped clients, it helped advisers."
Asked whether ENRC was really at risk of a raid, he replied:
"At this stage we had no idea. The client certainly thought they were at risk."
The SFO opened an investigation into ENRC in 2013 over allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption surrounding the acquisition of mineral assets in Africa. No charges have been filed against the company or current or former officers.
ENRC, which was co-founded by three billionaire Kazakh businessmen and the Kazakh government, also alleges that the SFO incited and encouraged Gerrard's conduct because it was "desperate" to secure a high-profile corporate scalp and accuses the agency of misfeasance in public office.
Gerrard, Dechert and the SFO deny wrongdoing. Former SFO director David Green is expected to testify later in the 11-week trial.
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; editing by David Evans)