Dechert pays £3m to settle businessman’s hacking claim

Dechert: Battle continues in US

Dechert has settled the UK portion of a long-running dispute with an Iranian-born American businessman who accuses the international law firm of trying to ruin him.

It is paying Farhad Azima £3m plus costs with no admission of liability.

In 2016, the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA), the sovereign wealth fund of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates that makes up the UAE, brought proceedings against Mr Azima, who was active in the aviation industry. RAKIA alleged that he was liable in fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy in relation to his business dealings with it.

Mr Azima denied the allegations and brought a counterclaim alleging that RAKIA had hacked his emails and other confidential data, and placed it on websites as a pretext for its possession of the data.

At trial in 2020, the High Court found Mr Azima liable in respect of misrepresentation and conspiracy, and dismissed his counterclaim. Though the Court of Appeal upheld RAKIA’s claims, it overturned the dismissal of the counterclaim on the basis of new evidence.

Mr Azima’s counterclaim was remitted to the Chancery Division for retrial, which was due to be heard this year. Among the defendants Mr Azima joined to the counterclaim were Neil Gerrard, who was RAKIA’s solicitor, and Dechert, where he was a partner before retiring.

A spokesman for Mr Azima said: “Dechert and its partners played a leadership role in hacking Mr. Azima and others. While this substantial payment resolves Mr Azima’s limited claim in the UK, Mr. Azima will continue to pursue the significant claims he has brought against Dechert and others based on their conduct against him in the US and the damages they caused him there…

“That case seeks justice for the Dechert-led, years-long operation to ruin Mr Azima’s business and reputation in the US. The numerous illegal acts committed or directed by Dechert include obstructing multiple US proceedings, witness tampering, money laundering, and wire fraud.”

In a statement, Dechert said: “The Dechert parties and Mr Azima have agreed terms without any admission of liability in order to bring about a commercial resolution to the proceedings brought by Mr Azima in the English High Court.

“The settlement is for £3m plus Mr Azima’s reasonable costs which have yet to be agreed between the parties or determined by the court.”

The costs dispute is likely to be as contentious as every other element of the case, however. Mr Azima’s costs are about £11m but there is a part 36 offer at play too.

In 2022, RAKIA withdrew its instructions to its solicitors and has since ceased offering any defence to Mr Azima’s counterclaim. It is currently in default of an £8.5m costs order in favour of Mr Azima.

The same year, Mr Azima obtained new evidence that led him to start proceedings to set aside the original judgment in RAKIA’s favour on the grounds that the judgment had been obtained by fraud.

Mr Gerrard, Dechert and another defendant challenged this, but the High Court held that the case could go ahead, saying Mr Azima had real prospects of satisfying the conditions for overturning the ruling. The Court of Appeal upheld this last year.

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