Aviation tycoon Farhad Azima, who has sued Dechert and its former London partner Neil Gerrard over allegedly helping the Middle Eastern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah hack into his emails, has successfully secured a subpoena in U.S. federal court against a New York attorney to help pursue his claims.
The ruling has implications for Dechert and former white-collar co-head Gerrard, as Azima added the pair as additional defendants in a U.K. countersuit in 2021, after he was initially accused of fraud and conspiracy by the Ras Al Khaimah Authority (RAKIA). He contends that Gerrard, RAKIA’s legal adviser in a separate fraud investigation, was “party to the hacking, the staged release of the data and the cover-up” and that Dechert is also liable for its former partner’s actions.
The firm already has its hands full with Gerrard, who was found by the London high court earlier this year to have leaked information about another client to the press and misled the client about potential criminal liability.
The litigation involving Azima goes back to 2016, when he was sued in London court by RAKIA on claims of fraud and conspiracy stemming from a past business venture. He brought counterclaims alleging that RAKIA’s allegations were underpinned by a hack.
While Azima initially lost his case against RAKIA in May 2020, he was granted an appeal and retrial in March 2021. That July, Azima successfully added Gerrard, Dechert and others as counterclaim defendants in the London suit. He also, represented by counsel at Miller & Chevalier, launched the suit in New York federal court, pursuing documents purportedly held by New York attorney Amir Handjani—an adviser to the ruler of the emirate— that detail efforts to “go after” him. Azima sought to demonstrate that Handjani falsely testified that the emirate was not involved in the hack.
Handjani, a one-time U.S. Department of Justice attorney, was a founder and general counsel of RAK Petroleum PCL and is currently a senior adviser at KARV Communications in New York. KARV, according to court documents, sent a letter to Gerrard in 2015 reporting that “a series of investigations” has “exposed as fact” that Azima “orchestrated [or] fully participated in numerous fraudulent activities.” Documents connected to this letter are one element of the discovery fight.
Handjani’s lawyers at Greenberg Traurig fought Azima’s discovery bid, arguing that pre-trial testimony is contrary to English law procedure and that Azima’s demands were ”overbroad” and “untethered to his claims.”
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe of the Southern District of New York ultimately concluded that because of Handjani’s ongoing relationship with the ruler of RAK and his role at KARV, Azima had shown enough to demonstrate that Handjani may have evidence connected to the hack. The judge ordered Handjani last week to produce a slew of documents and sit for a deposition.
After issuing an order in the matter on July 15, Judge Gardephe issued a subpoena on Monday directing Handjani to provide the documents in question. A deposition in the matter is also currently scheduled for Aug. 30.
“We are pleased with the New York court’s decision to agree with us that Mr Handjani has undisclosed evidence of the hack-and-leak campaign conducted against Mr Azima,” a spokesperson for Azima said. “Mr Handjani has strongly resisted our requests for documents and we now look forward to his compliance with the New York court order, and his subsequent deposition.”
Greenberg Traurig attorney David Berger, who represents Handjani, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a spokesperson for Azima.
A spokesperson for Dechert declined to comment on the New York ruling. But, addressing the allegations in the U.K. suit, the spokesperson said: “The allegations against the firm are denied and we are defending the claim.”