Photo illustration by John Lyman



The High Cost when Corporate Intelligence Goes Wrong

As the early months of 2020 unfurled, just before the pandemic’s unwelcome intrusion into global affairs, Farhad Azima found himself under a microscope of legal scrutiny.

The Iranian American, with a history at the helm of an airline and encircled by murmurs of clandestine work for the CIA, was the subject of a courtroom drama in the UK High Court. Evidence meticulously laid before the court would eventually culminate in a verdict of misrepresentation against him. This judgment mandated that Azima return a substantial sum to the investment authority of Ras Al Khaimah, one of the United Arab Emirates’ lesser partners. The authority had initiated legal action against Azima, accusing him of fraudulent dealings — a claim that, if upheld, would cost him dearly.

Azima’s legal strategy hinged on a critique of methodology rather than the substance of the accusations against him. He alleged that the information that formed the backbone of his conviction was obtained through illicit means by Ras Al Khaimah. The judge, though casting doubt on the Emirate’s account of how it acquired such information, ultimately found the linkage between the Emirate and the purported hacking to be insufficiently substantiated. Consequently, despite the defense’s argumentation, Azima was left facing the inevitable: the judgment demanded recompense.

Azima’s obligation to settle the monetary judgment might have been irrevocable, were it not for subsequent disclosures concerning the means by which Ras Al Khaimah – and Dechert, the law firm representing the Emirate – had come into contact with the hacked material. These developments abbreviated Azima’s saga, which inadvertently exposed a blossoming ‘hacking for hire’ industry, a new sector being powered, in large part, by corporate intelligence firms.

The Azima affair has brought the debate over the utility and financial prudence of ‘corporate intelligence’ operations into sharp relief, demonstrating the potential for backlash when investments in such practices disastrously backfire. This is underscored by the quintet of legal actions currently confronting Dechert and its erstwhile associate Neil Gerrard, centering on allegations of cyber espionage.

The Azima litigation serves as a parable on the ethical quandaries intrinsic to the pursuit of justice: it probes the moral legitimacy of the methodologies deployed to garner evidence. This narrative extends beyond the shadowy realm of cyber espionage. It encompasses practices such as compensating witnesses for their participation in corporate inquiries—tactics employed by entities like Raedas to bolster Agility’s claim against Korek, the Iraqi telecom firm.

Such strategies risk serious repercussions, raising the specter that Agility’s substantial arbitration gain might be nullified by a Dubai tribunal, should it be determined that the foundation of their victory was marred by tainted evidence or questionable tactics. The resolution of this matter remains pending, drawing keen anticipation for its outcome.

The saga’s implications are far-reaching, yet the core message is unmistakable. In a twist of the legal narrative, the corporate sleuth implicated in engineering the cyber intrusion against Azima has launched a countering legal salvo, tying his case to the principal entity ENRC, itself mired in a separate legal fray with Dechert and Gerrard. This new development, however, is not expected to impede Azima’s determined effort to overturn his conviction. The repercussions of the original case have been set in motion and their impact, it appears, is irreversible.

In the high-stakes arena of legal and arbitral warfare, where every participant is vying for the upper hand, the principle of ‘buyer beware’ assumes paramount importance. It serves as a warning that in the pursuit of victory, the tools and tactics employed may, without diligent scrutiny, lead to unforeseen consequences.