Dechert, the law firm that was investigating corporate governance issues at Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), has been sent a demand for documents from the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The SFO sent a Section 2a notice to the legal firm after it was fired by ENRC just weeks before it was due to unveil its findings of an investigation into the mining company's business practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), sources told the Financial Times.
The notice, which the SFO uses as a way of securing documents, suggests the UK prospector is weighing the launch of a formal criminal inquiry into the FTSE 100 mining company.
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It may also be a sign that the SFO may no longer feel it can trust the miner to investigate itself. ENRC was allowed to commission the independent investigation led by Dechert until late March.
"We can only use this power if the director finds reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has been committed involving serious or complex fraud or corruption," the SFO said in a statement about its Section 2 powers.
Section 2a in particular means the SFO can demand information at a pre-investigation stage when it suspects overseas bribery and corruption, the website added.
Dechert looked into ENRC's business practices including potentially fraudulent payments of at least $100m over four years. Another report into ENRC's African mines is pending.
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