Miner ENRC rounds on UK's SFO, Dechert in London court battle

LONDON, May 24 (Reuters) - A former lawyer of Kazakh mining company ENRC turned on his own client and effectively invited the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to launch a corruption investigation eight years ago out of personal greed, London's High Court heard on Monday.

Opening a highly anticipated London High Court trial, Nathan Pillow, a lawyer for ENRC, alleged that former Dechert partner Neil Gerrard used "scaremongering" tactics on his client, set up unauthorised meetings with the SFO, and leaked confidential and privileged ENRC information when it suited him.

Pillow told the court that Gerrard, hired in 2010 to carry out an internal investigation into a minor overseas whistleblowing report, personally earned about $10 million by turning a small job into one so large that it employed more than 50 Dechert fee earners at one point.

"Mr Gerrard had a very direct piece of skin in this game," Pillow said, alleging that if Gerrard encountered opposition within ENRC in his quest to expand his remit and earn fatter fees, he would seek to "impune and sideline" individuals.

Dechert and Gerrard dismiss the allegations as "an elaborate work of fiction" and say they stand by their work.

The SFO, which has faced stinging criticism over the collapse of a separate prosecution last month, rejects all claims against former senior staff as "hopeless", according to court filings.

The defendants will lay out their defence later this week.

ENRC fired Dechert in 2013, having paid fees of at least $18 million. Shortly afterwards, the SFO opened an investigation over allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption surrounding the acquisition of mineral assets in Africa.

No charges have been filed against the company or current or former officers.

ENRC, which was co-founded by three billionaire Kazakh businessmen and the Kazakh government, alleges Gerrard had 30 unauthorised communications with close SFO contacts between 2011 and 2013, breaching his contract and fiduciary duty.

The SFO, it alleges, incited and encouraged Gerrard's conduct because it was "desperate" to secure a high-profile corporate scalp.

The SFO stands accused of misfeasance in public office and ENRC is seeking public vindication and multi million pound damages for "very significant losses".

Former SFO director Richard Alderman, who left the agency in 2012, former interim director Mark Thompson and David Green, who held the reins for six years, are among those expected to testify in the 11-week trial - one of a string of lawsuits filed by ENRC since 2013.

($1 = 0.7048 pounds)

Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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