English courts swamped with hacked evidence and pilfered data

A new report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says that many cases in UK courts revolve around data and evidence obtained by leading law firms with the help of hacker-for-hire services.

This was revealed by a multimillion-pound high court case between an authoritarian Gulf emirate and an Iranian-American businessman.

“The case has included allegations that a former Metropolitan Police officer hired Indian hackers and that lawyers from a top City firm held a secret ‘perjury school’ in the Swiss Alps to prepare false witness testimonies about how they got hold of illegally obtained information,” the report says.

Researchers, together with the Sunday Times journalists, have talked about Aditya Jain, a computer security expert who set up a hack-for-hire operation from India, already in November.

Jain’s gang – as a leaked database seen by the Bureau shows – was used by private investigators linked to the City of London and the Metropolitan Police to target British businesses, government officials, and journalists.

The obtained data was then used in court cases and used as evidence. The report says that some of the hacker’s private investigator clients have been contracted by major law firms with bases in the City.

The unique feature of the legal system in London is that a judge will, in most cases, accept hacked emails as evidence in court in the interests of justice – unless she finds a reason to exclude it. This means the illegality of evidence is not actually an important factor in court.

“Illegally obtained evidence can sometimes be admitted in civil cases. Judges prefer to see whatever evidence will help them establish the truth of the matter. This has proved something of a clarion call for London’s private investigators,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism said in another report based on analysis by law firm Brown Rudnick back in 2021.

“Hired by solicitors or their clients but operating without regulation, they are tasked with finding information to support their case or, better yet, harm the credibility of their opponent.”

Precisely this happened in the dispute between the Gulf emirate of Ras al Khaimah and Farhad Azima, an aviation magnate based in America. One of the lawyers engaged in the case was the barrister Hugh Tomlinson KC.

Tomlinson used emails stolen from Azima’s personal inbox to prove that the businessman had engaged in fraud. Azima’s emails had been hacked and dumped on the web – by Jain’s hack-for-hire firm that was in turn engaged by a client called “Nick.”

The Bureau’s evidence strongly suggests that the “Nick” is Nick Del Rosso, a British former police detective who works on behalf of UK legal firms from his home in North Carolina in the United States.

“The leaked database shows Jain’s hacking gang managed to obtain passwords for six of his email inboxes as well as his American Express and Skype accounts.

A year later, tens of thousands of Azima’s emails, personal photographs, voice recordings, videos, and WhatsApp messages were uploaded to the internet. Since the information was now publicly available, Ras al Khaimah was free to use it in London’s high court,” the report says.

There is no suggestion that Tomlinson had any involvement in the hacking of Azima’s emails, but he was aware that they were the product of a hack and would have been professionally obliged to deploy them.

The case is ongoing. Even though Azima was ordered to pay millions of pounds in damages, additional evidence and several retractions have changed the situation, and a judge ruled in November that Azima could challenge the original finding.

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