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Exclusive: Firm used by Magic Circle guilty of bribery and corruption
17 February 2017
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A Cypriot firm regularly used by major UK firms has been found guilty of bribery, conspiracy to defraud and corruption.

Andreas Neocleous & Co LLC is Cyprus's largest law firm and has offices in Moscow, Brussels, Kiev, Prague and Budapest. A number of major UK law firms are understood to routinely refer work to it. But probably not for much longer.

Neocleous & Co and one of its partners, Panayiotis Neocleous, bribed Cyprus' then deputy attorney-general Rikkos Erotokritou to bring a criminal prosecution against a Russian consortium. The firm had been engaged for years in a court battle with the Russian group for control of a trust fund worth hundreds of millions of euros. But rather than trying to bribe the deputy AG with money, it simply agreed not to respond when he sued one of its clients. Erotokritou's claim sought  to have Neocleous' client, a bank, write off €500,000 of personal loans it had made to him. Both sides fulfilled their sides of the deal, until it all unraveled.

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This week the Cypriot court said that it was "not convinced" by Panayiotis Neocleous’ claim that his secretary had simply misread the court summons relating to Erotokritou's claim against the bank. It pointed out that Neocleous had maintained for two years that he was responsible for the error because he instructed his secretary to file the document in the wrong case file, and had only changed his testimony in court.

A source told RollOnFriday that the 130-lawyer firm was the "go-to local counsel for Magic Circle work out of Moscow". A spokeswoman for Allen & Overy said that it had referred some work to Neocleous & Co and a spokesman for Clifford Chance confirmed that the firm was "discussing the issue with clients as appropriate". A spokesman for Freshfields said that it had not worked with Neocleous & Co. Although RollOnFriday understands that, wisely, it has put in place a ban on its lawyers referring any work to the firm, just in case.
 

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anonymous user
17/02/2017 10:16
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While this story focuses on the lawyer (quite rightly), in a broader context it is more worrying that the AG of Cyprus was open to being bribed. Will be interesting to see if resultant damage to the jurisdiction's reputation is significant.
anonymous user
18/02/2017 08:31
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Not really fair to describe Cyprus as a paradise for criminals based on the actions of one firm. Working here as a UK-qualified solicitor, I can say the vast majority of lawyers are conscientious about their work and diligent with their professional obligations. Of course our reputation has taken a hit as one of the biggest firms has been caught red-handed - much like the UK banking sector still has some serious question marks with HSBC being fined for facilitating money laundering, but most people do their jobs properly. With experience working in both the UK and Cyprus, I can say that there is roughly the same level of dodgy activity going on - inevitable wherever you are.

anonymous user
20/02/2017 13:35
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How does a civil servant earning 84.441 euro annually (according to information published in 2015) accumulate sufficient personal loans to request a write off of 500K?
anonymous user
06/03/2017 19:08
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Neocleous law firm described the trial a “travesty”, and announced plans to appeal.

“The imposition of punishments on Panayiotis Neocleous and our firm are the latest steps in a travesty of justice that continued for more than two years and culminated in a harsh and unjustified verdict which, unprecedentedly, took more than nine hours to deliver,” the law firm said.

“Like its initial verdict, the sentences the court imposed today are an affront to justice. But they are by no means the end of the matter. We shall seek justice by an appeal in the Supreme Court of Cyprus and, if necessary beyond. We shall not rest until this injustice is overturned and we are exonerated, however long it may take.”
  

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