Peers and clients say:
"David is able to distil complex accounting concepts for easy digestion by legal teams and tribunals"
"He has a very easy manner and works well alongside legal teams"
"He is extremely persuasive on the stand"
"Clients love David for his knowledge and experience, and because he is so down to earth"
David Dearman is a senior managing director in Ankura’s London office specialising in international dispute advisory and expert witness services with a focus on investigations, asset tracing, cross-border disputes and international arbitration. He has over 25 years of experience in preparing expert reports and giving oral evidence in complex international disputes (including asset expropriation, contractual, warranty disputes, damages and loss assessments, technical accounting disputes and complex valuations) and fraud, money laundering and other financial investigations.
What attracted you to a legal career as an expert?
An inspiring law lecturer at university introduced me to the world of forensic accounting and expert witness work, studying the Barlow Clowes affair, one of the first and biggest financial scandals in the UK, which was in court at the time. As my career developed, secondments to the Serious Fraud Office and the Department for Trade and Industry followed as well as working on landmark cases such as Barings, BCCI and Factortame cemented my passion for expert work at an early stage.
Name one of your most memorable cases as a forensic accountant.
Recently acting for MOL in its claim against Croatia in an ICSID arbitration spanning more than eight years. I acted as the accountancy expert giving evidence in the defence of Croatia’s counterclaim that MOL’s chairman and CEO bribed ex-Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to acquire MOL’s investment in Croatia. After two tribunal hearings, the tribunal roundly rejected Croatia’s allegations based, in part, on my evidence and the evidence of my co-experts.
How does your legal background enhance your approach and ability when handling disputes?
As an independent expert my duties and responsibilities are to the court or tribunal I am giving evidence before. It is imperative I do not stray outside my expertise, in particular into matters of law. However, in any investigation or expert witness assignment knowledge of the law, legal mechanisms of redress, the legal process and legal challenges ensure a robust analysis and the preservation of the evidential integrity of my work. Also, it maximises the opportunities for me to coordinate my work and collaborate effectively with the counsel team and the client.
What new types of fraud have you seen emerge recently? How are you ensuring that you and your clients are well-equipped to tackle the forensic challenges they pose?
There are rarely new types of fraud as such, just new mechanisms and new assets. The fraudulent schemes themselves are familiar. The covid-19 relief provided by governments around the world in the form of furlough, loans and tax reliefs, combined with reduced controls to speed up the supply of PPE, lateral flow tests and other pandemic-related products created an environment in which fraud could flourish and it is only now that the effects are emerging. Crypto and NFTs also present new asset classes, which are subject to fraudulent schemes. The culture of an organisation is key to the defence, a robust and frequently tested internal control environment, internal scepticism and diligence driven by a tone from the top. Technology is also increasingly important.
What are the main challenges and risks when recovering assets for clients?
Jurisdiction and technology provide the greatest challenges to tracing assets. They can also provide the greatest opportunity when harnessed correctly and with knowledge of the information which is available. Local knowledge in a global environment is critical in overcoming those challenges with a strong legal team and experienced investigators and asset tracers.
Do you have any tips for counsel on how to use an expert team effectively?
Early engagement is the single most important piece of advice. If quantum is an issue in a dispute or an investigation is required, it is imperative that experts are engaged early, to provide clients and their counsel with robust assessments of loss and damage that will stand up to scrutiny and to secure evidence. The amount in dispute is critical to the legal team’s approach to a dispute and the development of a case strategy. Also, clear instructions and good communication at the early stages of a dispute or investigation ensure that experts stay focused, relevant proportionate and most of all helpful.
How would you like to develop your practice in the next five years?
We are a young practice which is growing rapidly. Our objective is to be the go-to practice for market-leading expert witnesses, investigators, asset tracers and sanctions and compliance professionals. We are off to a great start with the depth and quality of our senior hires. We are the one to watch over the next five years with more growth planned in our key markets across EMEA and APAC.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be good to your people and they will be good to you and your clients. And a diverse team leads to diverse thinking and flexible innovative solutions. People are our greatest asset. Looking after them, caring about their mental health, their hopes, plans and aspirations, with the freedom to be themselves and express themselves, creating a diverse workplace, being flexible and agile are all critical to the success of a modern team.