“It won’t be magical without those guys here.”
Six lawyers from firms including CMS, Shillings, and Carter Ruck have denounced a US congressman’s call to ban them from the United States because of their work for Russian oligarchs.
Despite being experts in the field of silencing journalists on behalf of their clients, the UK lawyers have proved unable to prevent their own names becoming publicly linked with the Russian regime.
This week Memphis congressman Steve Cohen sent an open letter to the US Secretary of State asking his government to bar the six lawyers for their “unscrupulous” work.
Cohen’s powerfully-worded letter branded the lawyers as “foreign enablers” who were “serving individuals who are undermining democracy”.
He claimed that lawyers had helped bring “abusive lawsuits” against journalists to “silence” their investigations into oligarchs and businesses linked to Putin, and wrote that it was time to “hold to account” those “who are currently performing this unscrupulous work”.
“One method of deterrence is limiting the privilege of traveling to the United States”, said Cohen, who is the Co-Chairman of the US’s Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The six UK lawyers he identified were “among the worst such enablers”, claimed Cohen, and had been ably supported by the courts of England and Wales: “Despite our close ties with the United Kingdom, the nature of its libel laws and the vast amount of blood money in its financial system make it an ideal place for oligarchs to abuse the law to harass and intimidate”, he said.
“I ask that you review each name in consideration of banning their visas to the United States”, demanded Cohen.
The fierceness of the lawyers’ responses suggests that several have non-refundable Disneyland tickets.
- Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck, who Cohen said “has acted on behalf of Kremlin oil champion Rosneft on abusive suits against [author of Putin’s People] Catherine Belton and HarperCollins and worked for Gennady Timchenko in seeking to stifle investigative reporting”.
Carter-Ruck told RollOnFriday that Cohen’s remarks were “misplaced”, and that “We have not, do not, and would not engage in (as Congressman Cohen puts it) ‘abusive lawsuits’”.
The firm said it was instructed by Timchenko “entirely conventionally, to engage with various journalistic enquiries that he had received”, and that “we did not threaten the publishers with litigation either before or after publication”.
Carter Ruck said that in relation to the Rosneft proceedings, “The judge found that one of the meanings complained of by Rosneft was, indeed, defamatory”.
The firm pointed to Law Society President I Stephanie Boyce’s statement that, “It’s the job of solicitors to represent their clients, whoever they may be, so that the courts act fairly”, and said that, “In this context Mr Cohen’s remarks and his suggestion of a US travel ban being imposed on Mr Tait are regrettable”.
In a statement, the firm added that “The claims made against Carter-Ruck are misconceived and are rejected entirely. In addition to other matters, we are not working for any Russian individuals, companies or entities seeking to challenge, overturn, frustrate or minimise sanctions. We have never acted for Russian individuals, companies or entities seeking to challenge sanctions. We condemn the Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine. We are not acting for, and will not be acting for, any individual, company or entity associated with the Putin regime in any matter or context, whether sanctions-related or otherwise, and will continue to conduct all ‘know your client’ checks in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as we have always done”.
- John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, fingered by Cohen for representing Roman Abramovich in his “abusive lawsuit” against Catherine Belton and HarperCollins.
Kelly told RollOnFriday, “The firm has not acted as alleged, and so there is no basis for such steps to be taken”.
A spokesperson for Harbottle & Lewis said that the firm “has acted at all time in accordance with its professional and legal obligations, and takes these matters very seriously. The firm has not engaged in an abusive lawsuit as alleged, and there was no such suggestion made when the proceedings were considered by a High Court Judge who reviewed the book and ruled that it contained a number of defamatory allegations. Harbottle & Lewis does not and will not act for any sanctioned individuals and nor will it act for any members of the Putin regime or for any person or organisation known to be associated with it”.
- Hugh Tomlinson, a high-profile barrister Cohen included following his representation of Chelsea’s subbed owner Roman Abramovich, and fellow oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven in “abusive suits” against Belton and HarperCollins.
Tomlinson’s lawyers, Bindmans, pointed RollOnFriday to the cab rank rule for barristers which requires them to act for any client in cases within their areas of professional competence, and said that “Regulatory rules for lawyers are very strict and work to ensure equal entitlement to independent legal advice”.
Bindmans said that Tomlinson “acted properly and in accordance with those rules throughout and has never acted as Mr Cohen suggests. There is therefore no proper basis for Mr Cohen’s request”.
- Geraldine Proudler of CMS, who Cohen accused of working for Fridman and Aven in “abusive suits” against HarperCollins” and for working for Major Pavel Karpov, formerly of the Russian Interior Ministry, in an “abusive suit” against campaigner Bill Browder.
A CMS spokesperson told RollOnFriday, “We strongly reject the allegations of impropriety that have been made against CMS, and in particular Geraldine Proudler. We have reviewed the steps taken in our Media Litigation practice and are confident that these were compliant with all professional regulations as well as our wider responsibilities at the time. Congressman Cohen says he seeks to sanction lawyers who are currently performing work for Russian clients, but as we have said since the invasion of Ukraine, CMS is no longer accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government”.
- Keith Schilling of Shillings, whom Cohen said “is well known for bringing abusive suits against journalists and worked tirelessly to protect the fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low, [who] is accused by U.S. prosecutors of running a money laundering scheme to embezzle billions of dollars from Malaysian state investment fund, IMDB”. Schillings, blasted Cohen, also “sent legal threats to UK booksellers to prevent them from selling a book about their clients that was published by reporters working for The Wall Street Journal”.
A spokesperson for Schillings said, “We do not comment on client matters and indeed are not permitted to do so, but we fail to see how any representation of the Malaysian national named by Congressman Cohen could in any circumstances support the (in any event wholly misplaced) allegations that we are acting in the manner alleged in relation to Russian ‘oligarchs’”.
The Schillings spokesperson added, “We have certainly not brought any abusive legal actions. Indeed, if we had the actions would have been struck out by the Court. Congressman Cohen has been sadly misinformed as there is no basis for any allegation that we have in any way behaved other than in the highest traditions of the legal profession in upholding the rule of law”.
Schillings does not appear to be happy at all with Cohen blackening its founder’s name on the world stage. In a follow-up message, the firm told RollOnFriday, “threats against lawyers offend the rule of law as well as accepted UN and International Bar Associations standards”, and provided a raft of supporting references.
- Shlomo Rechtschaffen, whom Cohen said “is representing Walter Soriano, an enabler of Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich, and Dmitry Rybolovlev, in an abusive lawsuit against Scott Stedman”.
Rechtstaffen appeared to be apoplectic at his inclusion. He told RollOnFriday, “I did not act for any Oligarch” and said that Stedman, “who lost a hearing in the UK and is in breach of UK court orders”, was “clutching at straws and is now trying to tarnish my client’s reputation in the American public eye and the American political system”.
In a fiery statement, he alleged that Stedman “is abusing the American legal and political system” and “sullying the good standing of the UK justice system in order to save his skin. He has lost and is desperate”.
Several of the lawyers identified by Cohen were previously named by British MP Bob Seeley, who used parliamentary privilege to accuse them of being ‘amoral’ enforcers without risking his targets’ stock in trade - the threat of costly litigation.
Cohen said the United States “must crack down” on the not-dirty half-dozen “to end the system of global corruption that made possible this horrific war”.
If his bid is successful, it means no Monument Valley snaps for Nigel, no Vegas zip wire experience for Shlomo, and a cancelled trip to Graceland for Hugh.