Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions on oligarchs’ wealth, British law firms have come under increasing scrutiny for their work with these wealthy individuals.
In March, Health Minister Sajid Javid said “employees” should be challenged for their work with wealthy Russians close to President Vladimir Putin, including lawyers. Conservative MP Bob Seely addressed the House of Commons and also accused “amoral lawyers” of conspiring with “Putin’s henchmen” to protect their assets and “offer a form of legalized intimidation to silence their rivals”.
“People have the right to advice and legal advice, but they are abusing it very, very badly in our society right now,” Seely told fellow MPs.
Newspapers have also told ministers that “renowned UK law firms” have been helping oligarchs “prevent legitimate media scrutiny of their activities”. The guard reported. So should the country’s legal sector be cracked down on?
Who works for whom?
During his speech to MPs, Seely “questioned the morality” of four lawyers, he said evening standard. He used parliamentary privilege to name Harbottle & Lewis’ John Kelly, CMS’ Geraldine Proudler, Carter Ruck’s Nigel Tait and Matrix Chambers’ Hugh Tomlinson QC, accusing them of “working on behalf of Putin’s allies”. City AM reported.
Kelly and Proudler acted for oligarchs Roman AbramovichMikhail Fridman and Petr Aven at a court hearing suing journalist Catherine Belton over her book Putin’s peoplecorresponding The times. Tomlinson also “appeared for Abramovich” in the case.
Tait worked for Boris Berezovsky, “the late Russian who was first a party colleague of Putin before falling out with him,” the newspaper continued.
Secretary of State James Cleverly also said that BCL Solicitors LLP contacted his department on behalf of “billionaire business tycoon” Alisher Usmanov. The Law Gazette reported. An investigation into the assets of 35 oligarchs close to Putin has identified $3.4bn (£2.6bn) worth of assets owned by Usmanov, former Arsenal shareholder, the said BBC.
Oligarchs “play an essential role in Putin’s Russia,” he said The Atlantic. “They provide invaluable public support to the regime, run key companies and institutions, divert attention from the President’s vast wealth and, according to some reports, help conceal him.”
In a 2020 report, the Atlantic Council It is estimated that around $1 trillion (£750 billion) of “dark” Russian money is stashed abroad, and about a quarter of that is controlled by Putin and his closest allies.
“This money can be used and controlled by the Kremlin for espionage, terrorism, industrial espionage, bribery, political manipulation, disinformation and many other nefarious purposes,” the report warned.
Lawyers or the law?
Some law firms have severed ties with their Russian clients, such as Norton Rose Fulbright, while others now face more frequent compliance checks.
According to minutes of a board meeting of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the regulator is conducting “spot checks” on the law firms named in the parliamentary debate, it said The times. Officials “remind firms of their obligation to comply with anti-money laundering requirements and the sanctions regime” to ensure “they understand their obligations and the importance of compliance in this area.”
The Law Society has also said it is working to support lawyers challenging the government’s imposition of sanctions on their clients.
“Lawyers are highly regulated and are not allowed to raise flimsy objections to trials – if they question the government’s actions, it is because they believe the government is at risk of breaking its own rules,” said the society’s president, Stephanie Boyce, in a statement.
And while London lawyers may not be “innocent,” lawyer and journalist David Allen Green wrote in the financial times that “focusing on the moral choices of individual lawyers goes only so far as to understand how oligarchs apply and abuse English law”.
Lawyers, he stressed, “can only act within the framework set by the law and the court system. And it is the substantive law and procedures that make London attractive to oligarchs, not the charm of its proponents.”
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/law/956383/should-lawyers-be-stopped-from-acting-for-oligarchs “Putin’s henchmen”: Should lawyers be banned from working for oligarchs?