Dechert faces new 'hack-and-smear' suit; plaintiff is fired Wall Street Journal reporter
A fired reporter from the Wall Street Journal has filed a lawsuit accusing Dechert of participating in a “hack-and-smear operation” that led to his firing and blackballing in the journalism community.
Fired journalist Jonathan “Jay” Solomon filed the civil racketeering suit Oct. 14, one day after aviation entrepreneur Farhad Azima sued the law firm for alleged participation in a related hacking scheme.
Azima’s suit claimed that the hacking was intended to silence his complaints about human rights abuses by Dechert client Ras Al Khaimah, one of the United Arab Emirates. Azima alleged that hacked data was leaked to reporters, fed to the FBI, and used in a plot to “embroil” him in litigation.
Solomon, then the Wall Street Journal’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, alleges that his email communications with Azima, one of his sources, were swept up in the hacking, released on the internet and obtained by the Associated Press. “Suggestive language” in the emails wrongly impugned Solomon’s reputation as an ethical journalist, leading to his firing in June 2017, the suit says.
The emails had indicated that Azima was establishing a company called Denx and wanted to know whehter Solomon was joining it. But Solomon said he had no intention of doing so.
The Wall Street Journal told Solomon that the stolen information came in “over the transom,” according to the suit, which says Dechert also represents the Wall Street Journal’s parent company.
Solomon alleges that the hacking operation was part of an “abusive display of thuggery” during Dechert’s representation of the leader of Ras Al Khaimah.
The suit claims that the racketeering enterprise included “fraud, human rights abuses, kidnappings, torture, extortion, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, illegal hacking operations, money laundering and attacks against the free press.”
Defendants in both suits included former Dechert partners Neil Gerrard and David Graham Hughes. Gerrard was global co-chair of the firm’s white-collar and securities litigation practice based in London before his retirement in 2020. Hughes worked with Gerrard at Dechert before joining another firm in 2017. Other defendants included companies and corporate executives allegedly involved in the hacking.
“Dechert played a central role in the enterprise’s affairs and criminal activity,” Solomon’s suit says in a paragraph identical to one in Azima’s suit. “Dechert and its leadership were at least willfully blind or recklessly indifferent to Mr. Gerrard’s misconduct. Dechert ignored ‘red flags’ regarding Mr. Gerrard beginning when it first hired him as a partner in 2010 and turned a blind eye to increasingly clear evidence that emerged over the following decade showing that Mr. Gerrard was involved in serious ethical violations, human rights abuses and criminal activity, including hacking.”
Solomon’s suit alleges that Dechert had ignored allegations of billing improprieties by Gerrard before and after joining Dechert. The suit also alleges that Dechert became aware of Azima’s allegations about human rights abuses but did not take action, the suit says. The firm also provided Gerrard with 15 “burner phones” and did not preserve data on many of them, the suit says.
Azima had provided critical information to Solomon for his front-page story in the Wall Street Journal about an Iranian money-laundering operation designed to evade Western sanctions that involved the purchase of property in the Republic of Georgia. Azima had brokered some of the property transactions. One property, a hotel, would be purchased from the ruler of Ras al Khaimah. The purchase fell through after the story ran.
Solomon’s suit says he was at first unaware that he had been a target of the racketeering enterprise because the defendants concealed their wrongdoing by presenting a “fabricated story” about how they came into possession of the stolen data. The defendants claimed in a false court filing that the hacked material was obtained from the internet, Solomon’s suit alleges.
Solomon later learned about the hacking as a result of suits in the United States and the United Kingdom, his suit says.
Two of those suits were filed in 2020 by former executives with sovereign wealth fund RAKIA, who alleged that they were unlawfully detained on bogus fraud charges and tortured with the aim of obtaining false confessions that would implicate Azima and others perceived as threats to the ruler of Ras al Khaimah.
One of the executives said he was forcibly taken from his home and later “aggressively questioned” by Gerrard, who made clear that the executive wouldn’t be released unless he gave false information implicating Azima as an international arms dealer, the suit alleges. Other Dechert lawyers allegedly participated in later interrogations.
Azima learned of the executive’s treatment and sought to end the detention by publicizing it, according to the suits filed by Solomon and Azima.
Solomon’s suit alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and wiretap laws, civil conspiracy and tortious interference with business relationships.
A Dechert spokesperson provided the ABA Journal with this statement when asked for comment on Solomon’s suit: “The claim against the firm is denied and will be defended.” The firm provided the same statement regarding Azima’s suit.
Reuters and Law360 are among the publications with coverage of Solomon’s suit.