LONDON – UK fraud prosecutors sought an Israeli billionaire’s correspondence with the former President of Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila as part of one of their largest bribery investigations, a lawyer for the Serious Fraud Office said at a London trial.
SFO attorney Jonathan Hall described the request at the start of the two-day trial against Anna Machkevitch, 37, who’s accused of failing to produce the documents concerning her mining magnate father, Alexander.
The case is an off-shoot from the SFO’s seven-year investigation into Eurasian Natural Resources Corp (ENRC), a mining company owned by Machkevitch senior and two billionaire partners, collectively known as the trio. Hall said the SFO is investigating how ENRC acquired valuable mineral assets in Congo and its order included correspondence from Machkevitch to the “President” and “Katumba,” references to Kabila and senior adviser Augstin Katumba Mwanke, who died in a 2012 airplane crash.
In November 2018, the SFO ordered Alexander Machkevitch’s notes as well as calendar and diary entries and other documents over a 10-year period from his daughter, who works at his personal office, according to Hall. She denies any wrongdoing.
With mines in Kazakhstan and Congo, ENRC rose to become a FTSE 100 company on the London Stock Exchange, but the SFO probe led to its share price dropping substantially. Machkevitch and his partners then took the firm private again. They have since shifted their mining operations into another company called Eurasian Resources Group.
Machkevitch is a suspect in the case and the SFO has interviewed him, Hall said. While the alleged violations took place between 2010 and 2012, the SFO asked for records from 2008 until now, so it could look at possible ongoing contact between suspected conspirators, Hall said.
Earlier, Judge John Zani dismissed a request by the defendant to throw out the case. ENRC had argued that the SFO’s case was biased and only designed to score a point in the context of the corruption investigation, arguments the SFO denied.
Anna Machkevitch’s attorney David Whittaker argued that his client wanted to comply with the SFO’s order and had produced much of the material as soon as possible. Another of her lawyers had decided not to submit all the documents requested, as they fell outside of a date range he thought was reasonable, Whittaker said. As soon as Machkevitch was informed of the charge against her, she hired a third lawyer who immediately sent the remaining documents, Whittaker said.
Hall said it was “unthinkable” that Machkevitch’s lawyer had withheld some of the files without her consent.
Failing to comply with an SFO order of this kind carries a maximum six-month prison sentence or a fine. Zani is due to deliver his judgment on Jan. 30.