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Burford faces threat of ‘revenge porn’ prosecution

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The woman who features in a sex tape acquired by Burford Capital has hired lawyers for a potential private prosecution over an alleged breach of England’s “revenge porn” laws.

Covington & Burling, the US law firm, has been hired for the possible legal challenge against Burford and Daniel Hall, co-head of the company’s global corporate intelligence, asset tracing and enforcement business.

Mr Hall obtained files that included sexually explicit material featuring oil billionaire Harry Sargeant III and a woman who works in a “heavily regulated industry that is reputation sensitive”, as legal documents in the US described her.

The handover of material in Miami in October 2016 has sparked a legal battle on both sides of the Atlantic and led to scrutiny of Burford’s enforcement division, which it deploys to chase the assets of wealthy individuals subject to court orders.

Mr Hall was given the video while he was contracted to enforce a $28.8m judgment on Mr Sargeant, who belongs to the wealthy family behind Sargeant Marine, a large asphalt trading company.

In a private prosecution, proceedings are brought in a criminal court by an individual rather than the Crown Prosecution Service. No private prosecution against Burford and Mr Hall has yet been filed.

A case might be pursued under revenge porn laws, according to two people familiar with the matter. Since 2015, it has been a criminal offence in England and Wales to share intimate or sexual images of another person without their consent with the intention of causing that individual distress. The offence carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

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Lawyers representing the woman did not provide comment for publication.

Mr Hall said that as part of his work recovering assets owed by Mr Sargeant, he “lawfully obtained a cache of 168,000 Sargeant emails from his former employer, of which a very small fraction contained salacious material. The video in question was never deployed in any fashion nor distributed externally and steps were taken during subsequent litigation to anonymise the other party involved. The US courts have dismissed a complaint against my conduct and our malicious prosecution claim against Sargeant is set for trial later this year.”

He added: “The threat of further vexatious litigation from the other party in the video lacks any semblance of credibility, yet is perhaps unsurprising given the impending trial facing Sargeant himself.”

Mr Sargeant declined to comment.

Mr Hall eventually wrested $33m from Mr Sargeant on behalf of his client, Mohammad Al-Saleh, a former business partner of the billionaire. Mr Sargeant alleged Burford illegally accessed his private material, but his complaint was dismissed by a US court in March.

Legal documents revealed that Mr Hall sent an email in 2016 to three colleagues at Burford with an attachment called “HS3 [Harry Sargeant III] couple.jpg”. Mr Hall wrote: “Look what I have… Ho ho ho. A ‘viewing’ is probably worth having back in London.”

Proceedings in the UK could heap further pressure on Burford, whose £4bn valuation had made it the biggest stock on the UK’s junior Aim market until a recent dispute with short-seller Muddy Waters sent its shares plunging.

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Burford and Mr Hall are also being pursued for up to $91m in the High Court by Novoship, a Russian shipping group. Novoship, which is owned by Venezuelan business magnate Wilmer Ruperti, has accused Mr Hall of unlawfully trading confidential documents including bank statements related to Mr Ruperti for the sex tape. Burford and Mr Hall have denied wrongdoing in the case.

Via Financial Times

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