By Raphael Satter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior attorney at the law firm Dechert covered up the origin of a cache of hacked emails used to win a lawsuit against an Iranian-American aviation tycoon, a former colleague said in legal papers filed last week.
The tycoon, Farhad Azima, is suing Dechert over allegations that the one of the firm's London-based partners - Neil Gerrard, who has since retired from the firm - organized the theft of his emails and leaked them to the web ahead of a British lawsuit filed in 2016.
Now an affidavit by British private investigator Stuart Page has offered support for Azima's case, alleging that Gerrard helped concoct a bogus story that would explain how he got a copy of the stolen data.
Dechert declined to comment. Representatives for Gerrard, who had previously denied wrongdoing, did not return emails. Lawyers for Page did not respond to messages.
Page's affidavit could open a new window into how hackers are used to win high stakes litigation.
A Reuters investigation has previously revealed the existence of a group of India-based hackers that worked with Western private eyes to hack parties involved in lawsuits. Azima was among the hackers' targets.
It was in 2016, shortly after he was targeted by the hackers, that Azima was sued by one of Dechert's clients, the Emirates-based Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA.)
The British judge who tried that case in 2020 found that the leaked emails showed Azima had engaged in "seriously fraudulent conduct" in his dealings with RAKIA and ordered him to pay $4.2 million in compensation to the fund.
Azima has fought to throw the ruling out on the grounds that the emails were stolen by the opposing party. He recently was granted a retrial in Britain which is due to begin next year.
The Page affidavit, filed Wednesday in Manhattan, was submitted as part of an effort by Azima to seek discovery from a U.S.-based associate of RAKIA.
In the affidavit, Page apologized for misleading the court by claiming during the London trial that he was the one who alerted Gerrard to Azima's leaked emails after an Israeli journalist he knew innocently stumbled upon them during a web search.
In his new affidavit, Page said what really happened was that he passed the material to Gerrard after it had been supplied to him by Amit Forlit, an Israeli private investigator hired by Page. Page said Forlit used subcontractors who employed "hacking techniques" to obtain information.
Forlit told Reuters he had nothing to do with the hacking of Azima and insisted that he merely found the emails "on the web."
(Reporting by Raphael Satter; Additional reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Richard Chang)