Former WSJ reporter claims law firm used Indian hackers to sabotage his career

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (Reuters) – A former Wall Street Journal reporter is accusing a major U.S. law firm of using mercenary hackers to oust him from his job and ruin his reputation.

In a lawsuit filed Friday evening, Jay Solomon, the Journal’s former chief foreign correspondent, said Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP worked with Indian hackers to steal emails between him and one of its main sources, the director of Iranian-American aviation Farhad Azima.

Solomon said the messages, which showed Azima the idea of ​​them going into business together, were placed in a file and released in an effort to get him fired.

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The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, said Dechert “wrongfully disclosed this record first to Mr. Solomon’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, in its Washington DC office and then to other other media with the aim of slandering and discrediting him.” He said the campaign “effectively provoked the blackballing of Mr. Solomon by the journalist and editor community”.

Dechert did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Azima – who filed his own lawsuit against Dechert on Thursday in New York – did not immediately return a message. Read more

Solomon’s lawsuit is the latest in a series of lawsuits that follows Reuters reports of hired hackers operating out of India. In June, Reuters reported on the activities of several hack-for-hire outlets, including Delhi-area firms BellTroX and CyberRoot, which have been implicated in a decade-long series of spy campaigns targeting thousands of people, including more than 1,000 lawyers at 108 different law firms.

At the time, Reuters reported that the people who became hacking targets while involved in at least seven different lawsuits each launched their own investigation into the cyber espionage campaign.

This number has since increased.

Azima, Solomon’s former source, is among those who went to court over the alleged hack. His lawyers, like Solomon’s, claim Dechert worked with BellTroX, CyberRoot and a host of private investigators to steal his emails and post them on the web.

BellTroX and CyberRoot are not party to the lawsuit and could not be immediately contacted. Executives from both companies have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Solomon and Azima allege that Dechert undertook the hack and leak operation for the benefit of his client, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al-Qasimi, ruler of the Middle Eastern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Reuters reported that lawyers at Ras Al Khaimah’s investment agency – RAKIA – used the emails to help win a fraud case brought against Azima in London in 2016.

Azima, who denies RAKIA’s allegations of fraud, is trying to have the judgment overturned.

In addition to being deployed in court, the leaked emails were also passed on to The Associated Press, which published two articles about Azima in June 2017, including one revealing that the airline mogul offered the journalist Solomon a minority stake in a business he was. establishment. The Journal fired Solomon shortly before the AP article was published, citing ethical violations.

Solomon says he never accepted her proposal from Azima or benefited financially from their relationship. In a first-person account of the scandal published in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2018, the ex-journalist said he never put off Azima’s speech about business opportunities because he was trying to please. to a man who had played a crucial role in his reporting on the Middle East. Solomon admitted “serious errors in the handling of my source relationship with Azima”, but said he had been the target of an “incredibly effective” information operation.

The Journal, which is not a party to the lawsuit, did not immediately return an email. The AP did not immediately return a message.

Salomon won several awards for his work as a foreign correspondent before his dismissal. He declined to provide an official comment on the trial, but in his 2018 account he called the episode a warning to reporters.

“Leaks and hacks of emails and correspondence can blow up complex reports and derail months or even years of work,” he said.

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Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Denise W. Whigham