ERG Can Keep Legal-Bill Suit Secret, Frustrating Prosecutors

  • Public hearings could prejudice ERG in criminal probe
  • U.K.'s SFO probing ERG bribery allegations since 2013

Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. won a U.K. appeals court ruling allowing it to keep a fight with a law firm over fees secret in a bid to prevent prosecutors from using the hearings to aid a bribery probe.

Dechert billed ENRC for 16.3 million pounds ($23.4 million) for advice during an internal fraud investigation at the metal producer. The company, which changed its name to Eurasian Resources Group when it delisted in 2013, fired the law firm in March of that year.

"Because of ongoing criminal investigations into ENRC’s operations, the judge was clearly correct to conclude that the hearing should be in private," Judge Elizabeth Gloster said Tuesday in the appeal ruling in London.

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office opened a formal investigation into allegations that the company paid bribes to win business in Kazakhstan and Africa in 2013. The prosecutor, who wasn’t involved in the Dechert case, has kept quiet about the probe in the three years since the announcement.

The privacy request was opposed by the law firm, which argued that it would be a bad precedent for the principles of open justice. The company didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“These proceedings began in public, as is usual for costs assessments, and we would have preferred them to have continued on that basis," Dechert said in a statement. “That said, we now look forward to addressing these issues before the costs court without further delay."

Lawyers for the world’s largest producer of ferrochrome argued that if the costs and taxation proceedings were in public, SFO investigators would "attend that hearing in order to glean information of assistance to its inquiry," according to an earlier ruling in the suit.

The case is Dechert LLP (Appellant) and Eurasian Natural Resources Corp. Limited (Respondent), Case No: A3/2014/3702, U.K. Court of Appeal, Civil Division.

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