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Dechert was 'willfully blind' to partner accused of conspiring to hack opponent's emails, RICO suit says

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A civil racketeering lawsuit filed Thursday accuses Dechert of turning a blind eye to alleged unethical conduct by a London partner who allegedly conspired to hack and release the emails of a client’s opponent.

The Oct. 13 suit by Missouri-based aviation entrepreneur Farhad Azima alleges that the misconduct was part of a campaign against the enemies of Dechert client Ras Al Khaimah, one of the United Arab Emirates.

The hacking was intended to silence Azima’s complaints about human rights abuses, the suit alleges. The suit says hacked data was leaked to reporters who wrote negative stories, was used to spark an FBI investigation of Azima that was later dropped, and was used in a plot to “embroil” Azima in litigation.

A London partner named as a defendant in the suit, Neil Gerrard, was global co-chair of the firm’s white-collar and securities litigation practice before his retirement in 2020.

“Dechert and its leadership were at least willfully blind or recklessly indifferent to Gerrard’s misconduct,” the suit says. “The firm ignored ‘red flags’ regarding 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 Gerrard was involved in serious ethical violations, human rights abuses and criminal activity, including hacking.”

Dechert and Gerrard are among several suit defendants. Others included former Dechert partner David Graham Hughes and companies and corporate executives allegedly involved in the hacking and the transfer of money to pay for it.

The suit alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act through hacking and false or misleading statements in court battles that followed.

“The enterprise’s efforts to conceal its criminal conduct included the commission of numerous predicate acts under RICO, including: obstruction of justice, witness tampering, wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud and money laundering,” the suit alleges.

The rulers of Ras Al Khaimah had hired Dechert to investigate the activities of an executive with sovereign wealth fund RAKIA. One of the executive’s associates was detained indefinitely in a prison in Ras Al Khaimah. In a 2020 suit, the detainee claimed that Gerrard and others violated his human rights while in detention.

Azima had been involved in commercial ventures with Ras Al Khaimah. The suit says he became a target of the Dechert investigation when he sought to expose the emirate’s history of human rights abuses, including abuses against the detained man and Gerrard’s role in the mistreatment, the suit says.

The suit also says Azima’s hacked data was stolen to induce an agreement by Azima that arose out of unrelated business contacts with Ras Al Khaimah, “with a premeditated plan to commence a lawsuit against Azima alleging violation of that agreement,” according to the suit.

The agreement imposed a duty of good faith on Azima regarding Ras Al Khaimah. Dechert intended to sue for violation of that agreement based on documents that it had already obtained by hacking, the suit says.

“Azima refused to buckle, however,” the suit says.

Instead, he sued RAKIA in 2016 for hacking him.

To counter the suit threat, the conspirators “created a false exculpatory data trail” intended to cover up their role in the hacking and their mistreatment of the detained man, according to the suit. The intent was to suggest that the conspirators had “innocently found the data” that they had released on the internet, the suit says.

According to Reuters, Azima has alleged that the hacking was carried out by “Indian cybermercenaries.” His past allegations have sparked interest from lawyers representing other hacking victims, Reuters previously reported.

Other publications covering the suit, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, include Law360 and Bloomberg Law.

A Dechert spokesperson gave the ABA Journal this statement: “The claim against the firm is denied and will be defended.”

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