A high-court judge in London will ultimately decide what evidence, if any, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, the former FTSE-listed miner, will have to turn over to investigators as part of a long-running criminal probe.
A high-court judge will hear arguments from both the company and the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.
The SFO has launched a civil case against ENRC in an effort to access key material that the company claims is covered by legal professional privilege.
Privilege keeps confidential advice between a lawyer and client even during criminal investigations.
The SFO officially launched its criminal probe into ENRC in 2013. Investigators are examining ENRC’s acquisition of mines and prospects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, home to some of the world’s richest stocks of copper and cobalt.
Listed ENRC no longer exists after being taken private by its founding trio and the Kazakh government in 2013; in its place is the renamed Eurasian Resources Group. The founding trio own 60 per cent of ERG, and the newly restructured group says it has zero tolerance for corruption.
The SFO had a similar issue over privileged material in its criminal investigation into Barclays’ arrangements with Qatar as part of an emergency cash call during the financial crisis.
After a private hearing, the issue was resolved when Barclays partially waived privilege last year on thousands of documents. The SFO has said it will make a charging decision in the Barclays case by March.
Meanwhile, there will be a parliamentary debate about the SFO’s funding next week. The SFO’s annual budget stands at £33m per year, down from £52m in the financial crisis.
But added to that are so-called blockbuster funds from the Treasury, ringfenced for special investigations. This includes ENRC.
The SFO has asked for as much as half of its budget in extra funding. A report by the inspectorate that monitors the SFO has criticised its reliance on blockbuster funding, arguing that the government should instead increase its official budget.