By John Helmer, Moscow
Michael Wilson, a Kazakhstan-based lawyer specializing in mining and natural resources, has won a judgement from Australia’s highest court, reinstating a December 2009 award of more than $11 million. The five-year record of litigation has nailed three Australian lawyers — John Emmott, Robert Nicholls, and David Slater – for nicking clients, business, shares and profits from Wilson’s law firm MWP. According to the court rulings, the defendants secretly moonlighted to earn fees and share bonuses for transactions involving several major Kazakh resource projects — Sunkar Resources’s Chilisai phosphate project; Frontier Mining’s Benkala copper project; Roxi Petroleum; Max Petroleum; two other Central Asian mining projects, Urals Gold and Ablai; and four projects tied to these and other operators in the same region — Karamandybas (oil and gas), Ravninnoye (oil), Beibars Munai (oil), Lancaster, and Kangamiut (seafoods).
The story was first reported in October of 2009, when Wilson won a 216-page judgement against his former employees in the Supreme Court of New South Wales (Sydney). According to Justice Clifford Einstein, “the essence of the matter is that the defendants concealed these continuing activities from the plaintiff”. The judge ordered them to pay up what they had gained, and also compensate MWP for the cost of having to chase them across the globe since 2006, when they left MWP and went into business for themselves.
Wilson was the wrong man to cross, the judge added. “The depth of [Wilson’s] obvious anger with these persons cannot be overstated. The Court’s assessment of Mr Wilson is that he is a person of high intelligence but also a person whom when crossed, can be a formidable enemy.” A second order by Einstein in December of 2009 raised the compensation amount.
Proceedings have continued through 2010 and 2011, and the amount of Wilson’s claim has grown to over $16 million. In parallel with the Australian court cases, there are ongoing civil and criminal cases illustrating a worldwide gazetteer of where mining money goes when it’s on the run — the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Jersey, Switzerland, and the UK.
This week a four-judge panel of the Australian High Court, the country’s senior court, issued a new ruling for Wilson on December 1. This cancels the temporary victory the defendants had a year ago in the NSW Court of Appeal, where they claimed that Justice Epstein had been biased in Wilson’s favour, and that the case should be adjudicated all over again by a new judge. “There was not a reasonable apprehension that the trial judge was biased,” the High Court judgement says. “There was not an abuse of process. The appeal should be allowed and consequential orders made.”
“MWP has been totally vindicated,” Wilson said. But the costs are still totting up, and no compensation has been paid. “Nothing so far, as we are not yet at the enforcement stage, though in the BVI, we have freezing and disclosure orders over the world-wide assets of two of their [defendants] key vehicles, Temujin International Limited and Temujun Services Limited, in the amount of $16 million, where PWC [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] was also appointed by the Court as the supervising accountant because of their prior breaches and contempt.”.