Top Legal Cases to Watch in 2021

From the Assange extradition to the fall out from the Unaoil case a clutch of fraud cases, make for a busy schedule in 2021.

Generic Law court picture a member of the bar wearing barristers wig Credit: James Hoathly / Alamy Stock Photo.
Generic Law court picture a member of the bar wearing barristers wig Credit: James Hoathly / Alamy Stock Photo.
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LONDON (Bywire News) - Law 360 has added its top cases to watch of 2021. They hint at a busy year ahead for white collar crime and civil actions. Here are some of the highlights. 

Assange extradition 

One of the biggest cases of 2020 was the extradition hearings of Julian Assange. In a landmark hearing, the judge ruled against the extradition on health grounds. The US wants the founder of Wikileaks to be sent to the US to face charges of espionage where, according to his lawyers, he could face 150 years in prison.

His defence argued he would not face a fair trial and would be subject to inhuman conditions inside the notorious Supermax trial. They argued concerns over his mental and physical health should prevent him from being sent to America. 

At stake in this case was more than one man’s freedom; it’s the very concept of the press’ ability to publish secret documents if they prove wrongdoing on the part of the state. More than 30 witnesses including investigative journalists, human rights lawyers and historian Noam Chomsky testified on behalf of Assange fearing the case could set a precedent which could be used against other journalists. 

The court declined the extradition request, but only on ill health grounds. The US immediately appealed and the case will be heard later this year. 

Cum Ex 

Europe’s ever expanding tax scandal is coming to London in March. Denmark’s mushrooming law suit accuses multiple defendants of defrauding their tax agency SKAT out of $2bn. They are suing Dubai based hedge fund manager Sanjay Shah who they say masterminded the fraud. 

The case could be handled across three trials and is expected to be one of the largest litigation cases in English history. 

The first will consider the defendant’s claim that SKAT’s claims fall short because they involve an attempt by a foreign state to recover tax revenue. The second looks at issues of Danish Common law. 

If the case makes it through these it will go to a full trial in 2023 which is likely to last for more than a year. 

Trouble for the SFO 

The SFO finds itself involved in several major cases. The first is a challenge to its global reach. US engineering company KBR has asked the UK Supreme Court to prevent the SFO from forcing it to hand over documents held overseas relating to a criminal investigation in a UK subsidiary. They claim the SFO does not possess such power. 

The big sticking point for KBR is a High Court ruling stating that section 2 of the criminal justice act of 1987 grants the SFO the power to require an individual under investigation to produce documents relevant to an investigation extends to foreign companies if that business has enough of a connection to the UK. 

If successful, the case could reduce the SFO’s foreign reach and harm other investigations. 

SFO and Unaoil 

Another big issue for the SFO is the continuing fallout from last year’s Unaoil case. Although it resulted in a successful prosecution, the agency was publicly embarrassed by the behaviour of its head Lisa Osofsky. 

She was criticised for her interaction with a private investigator acting on behalf of the defendants which nearly derailed the case. It is unclear if the SFO are currently conducting an internal investigation to identify improvements or not.  

There will be more awkward times ahead for the SFO with the employment tribunal claim made by a former investigator Tom Martin. He was fired after an altercation with a counterpart at the FBI in the Unaoil investigation. Martin claims that lawyers for a defendant in the Unaoil case Saman Ahsani and the US Department of Justice engineered a joint complaint to remove him from the investigation when the two agencies were involved in a tussle over who should extradite Ahsani. 


The SFO is once again under the spotlight in a lawsuit from mining giant Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation over its contact with a controversial Dechert attorney. 

ENRC is suing Dechert for £25 million and the SFO for $93 million over claims that Dechert’s former head of white-collar crime, Neil Gerrard, disclosed confidential information about the company to the SFO which it then used in a long running corruption investigation. 

ENRC claims Gerrard disclosed information to the SFO at clandestine meetings in order to inflate his retainer from ENRC.    

The case serves as a lesson in how a defendant can play the long game and pick certain issues which can derail a wider investigation. 

Serco executives face prosecution 

Two former executives of outsourcing firm SERCO face prosecution for their role in defrauding the government over a contract to run electronic tagging. Last year, Serco agreed a deferred prosecution agreement in which they admitted to overcharging the government for tagging prisoners who had already returned to prison, moved abroad or had died. 

The DPA allowed Serco to avoid criminal prosecution which would have prevented it from securing future government contracts. 

The SFO hasn’t had much success in pursuing criminal investigations against individuals whose company has been involved in a DPA. This case will test the organisation’s ability to take both routes in dealing with fraud cases. 

Traditional fraud

At Southwark Crown Court in April two former directors of an ethical forestry investment plan Global Forestry investment face trial for defrauding investors. The plan encouraged investors to put money into tree plantations in the Brazilian rainforest. They are charged with conspiring to defraud investors and failing to correct false impressions about the terms of the investments.   

Sadeq versus Dechert 

Dechert is the focus of a complex case involving claims of torture by a defendant in one of last year’s biggest fraud trials. 

Karam al Sadeq alleges he was tortured and threatened by lawyers representing Dechert including Neil Gerrard, Caroline Black and David Hughes as part of an investigation into his involvement in a fraud against the Ras al Khaimah Investment Authority.

Sadeq was convicted last year but is appealing against the verdict saying information was extracted under torture and duress. He is suing Dechert for £15 million over the claims. Both Dechert and Gerrard deny the allegations. 

Elsewhere, aviation magnate Farhad Azima was given leave to appeal a hacking case against RAKIA and Gerrard. Azima argued that personal data used in the investigation had been illegally hacked from his computer. 

The judge at the original hearing dismissed the claim although he also rejected RAKIA’s explanation of how the documents came to be in their possession. 

Around the world 

Elsewhere there are a host of major fraud trials to look out for. These include the trial of Elizabeth Holmes who grew her blood testing start up Theranos into a multi billion dollar company. However, she now faces a trial for fraud after shortcomings in the company’s technology were exposed. 

In Hong Kong media Tycoon Jimmy Lai faces trial for fraud. He has been one of the loudest pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong. Last year police raided the offices of his Apple Daily Newspaper and arrested him on suspicion of aiding a foreign power and illegally using his office space. 

Police have not laid charges of foreign collusion but they have charged him with fraud. He was denied bail and is being held on remand until his trial scheduled for April. 

In France, Swiss bank UBS will appeal its €4.5bn penalty for tax evasion. Last year the bank was hit with a record fine of €3.7bn and ordered to pay 800 million in damages after a French court found the bank guilty of helping rich clients to evade tax. 


(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)

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