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How to Lose a $1.4 Billion Lawsuit: Fabricate Evidence

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 03, 2015 8:56 AM

What's a good way to lose a $1.4 billion lawsuit? Well, there are lots of ways, but a great way is to fabricate evidence. That's what happened in a suit between Moncrief Oil International and Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom, causing Moncrief to drop its suit, according to Forbes.

Last week, Moncrief produced what it alleged was a 10-year-old slideshow -- with a slide from 2012. Unless Moncrief also specializes in time travel, something went horribly wrong.

Specializing in Natural Gas Processing, and Time Travel

it all started when Moncrief sued Gazprom over an unsuccessful contract to purchase part of a Russian gas field back in the late '90s. Moncrief claimed that it shared inside information in 2004 about a natural gas plant it wanted to build in Texas, and that Gazprom used that inside information to cut a better deal with the plant's manufacturer, Occidental Petroleum. (Yup, Occidental ended up parterning with Gazprom to build it.)

Gazprom insisted that it received "marketing materials," not trade secrets. It would have been helpful to have those materials, but 10 years later, they couldn't be found -- until, that is, Moncrief found a single slide from a 2004 slide show containing, you guessed it, trade secrets!

Then it was time for Van Beckwith, a lawyer for Gazprom, to shine. "It was my Perry Mason moment," he told BloombergBusiness. As it turned out, the slide contained a chart from an analysis of natural gas value chain costs prepared by a University of Texas geologist -- in 2012.

After being unmasked as phony, Gazprom asked for sanctions. Moncrief obliged by taking the initiative to ask the court to dismiss the case, which it did with prejudice, so at least Moncrief knows when it's been caught with its pants down.

A Tragic 'Mistake'

Marshall Searcy, one of Moncrief's lawyers, passed the buck on to someone else. "An employee made a tragic mistake that created a flawed record," he told reporters. (Did the employee accidentally create a slide that he knew wasn't from 2004, but claimed was from 2004, that would, if true, have helped Moncrief?)

In a testament to the value of the Internet, Beckwith's legal team apparently discovered the fake with a single Google search. "They put the title of the chart into the Internet search engine and its author appeared on top of the results list," Bloomberg Business reports.

Whether it's a high school senior faking a term paper or a lawyer faking an exhibit, the Internet is not your friend. And so, dear general counsel, not only should you not fabricate evidence because it's unethical, illegal, and will cost you the case, but it's super easy to figure out when you've done it. (It's also not terribly original; a few short months ago, hard-drive maker Western Digital got sanctioned for exactly the same thing: altering a PowerPoint presentation.)

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