UK's Fraud Office refers employee to police amid leak allegations

LONDON (Reuters) - The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said on Thursday it had referred an individual to the police amid allegations made by mining company ENRC that an “SFO insider” had leaked confidential information about investigations to a journalist.

The investigator and prosecutor said it had “identified a potential security issue” but could not comment further about personnel issues. A spokesman declined to identify the individual and the police had no immediate comment.

Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), at the centre of a sprawling, seven-year SFO investigation into allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption, has alleged in court documents that a journalist referred to a “source within the SFO who is briefing me off-the-record on their investigation into ENRC”.

In the filings, which were prepared for a Feb. 14 hearing and seen by Reuters, the company alleged that its lawyers and the SFO had anonymously received a cache of “seemingly hacked” emails last August that had been sent or received by the journalist between 2013 and 2018.

According to the ENRC court documents, which were filed as part of its civil lawsuit against the SFO and its own former lawyers, Dechert, one of the sources identified in the emails was under internal investigation within the SFO and the matter had also been referred to the police.

The SFO opened a criminal investigation into ENRC in 2013 over allegations of wrongdoing surrounding the acquisition of mineral assets in Africa.

ENRC, which was co-founded by three Kazakh billionaire businessmen and the Kazakh government, has denied wrongdoing and has made its own allegations of potential collusion and cover-up against the SFO and Dechert, which both parties rebuff.

The civil lawsuit into that claim is expected to be heard in London’s commercial court in 2021.

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Christina Fincher