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Court of Appeal orders retrial of hacking claim against Ras Al Khaimah sovereign wealth fund


The Court of Appeal has ordered a retrial of a complaint of email hacking made by Mr Farhad Azima against the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (‘RAKIA).

Mr Azima is a businessman in the aviation sector who had business dealings with the government of Ras Al Khaimah and its agencies, including RAKIA.  In August and September 2016, an enormous quantity of Mr Azima’s private emails and data (including privileged materials) was placed on internet BitTorrent sites.  The materials had been obtained through hacking.  Within weeks of that material appearing, RAKIA brought proceedings against Mr Azima making claims in relation to its business dealings with him and relying on the hacked material in doing so.

Mr Azima contended that the materials were hacked at RAKIA’s instruction, raised various defences to the claims and brought a counterclaim for the hacking and dissemination of his data.   RAKIA denied the hacking and claimed to have legitimately discovered the materials on the BitTorrent sites.

On the trial at first instance in the Chancery Division (see here), Deputy Judge Andrew Lenon QC upheld the claims of RAKIA against Mr Azima although these were based on the use of the hacked data.  In relation to the hacking, he found that the Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah was hostile to Mr Azima because he believed Mr Azima to have been working with the former CEO of RAKIA to cause trouble for him.  The Ruler had as a result in 2015 ordered Mr Azima to be “targeted” and “gone after”, but RAKIA did not have a clear explanation as to what that action entailed.  The Deputy Judge also found that RAKIA’s case that it learned of the materials on the BitTorrent sites through one of its agents (Mr Stuart Page) was not true.  However, the Deputy Judge found that Mr Azima had not established that RAKIA was responsible for the hacking. 

Mr Azima appealed that and other findings.  In support of the appeal, Mr Azima sought permission to rely on new evidence relating to the hacking.  The new evidence included a substantial number of malicious ‘phishing’ emails sent to Mr Azima and various associates that were identified following a tip off after the trial by Thomson Reuters, which was conducting a major investigation into ‘hack for hire’ firms.  It also included evidence indicating that another of RAKIA’s agents made substantial payments to an Indian firm (alleged to be a ‘hack for hire’ operation) to carry out the hacking of Mr Azima’s emails for RAKIA. 

The Court of Appeal has ordered that the hacking issue is to be remitted for a further trial in the Chancery Division before a different judge.

The judgment is here.

Tim Lord QC, Thomas Plewman QC and Hugo Leith (instructed by Burlingtons Legal LLP) represented Mr Farhad Azima.