“(Legal) Complaints bloomed like toxic hothouse flowers . . “ says UK Publisher defending oligarch claims
Conservative MP Bob Seely recently named some key lawyers he says are representing oligarchs in ‘lawfare’ litigation in the UK and The Times published an article by publisher Arabella Pike on how “Russia’s super-rich have used our courts mercilessly to censor reporting of their wealth” over her fight over the books Putin’s People and Kleptopia.
Pike wrote that the lawsuit against brought against HarperCollins and Tom Burgis by the Kazakh mining company Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), and saw the court refuse permission for an appeal and awarding costs on account of £50,000, with the likelihood of more to come.
“His judgment in the High Court was a complete vindication for Burgis and his book Kleptopia. The truth lived,” she wrote.
The MP said in the British parliament: ‘It is a very serious situation that our legal systems have become so corrupted,’ he said before listing four lawyers he claimed were working with Putin’s allies.
Among the lawyers named by the MP are –
Harbottle & Lewis solicitor John Kelly has acted for the best known London-grad oligarchs Roman Abramovich, along with leading Silk Hugh Tomlinson QC (below).
Carter-Ruck solicitor Nigel Tait, who works as a defamation and media lawyer at the firm.
In a statement regarding the claims made about Tait, Carter-Ruck issued the following statement:
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.
Geraldine Proudler, (pictured left) who is billed by CMS as being head of the firm’s media and litigation practice, having handled defamation, ‘reputation management’, crisis management and related issues for clients for many years, establishing her reputation as one of the leading legal figures in the areas of expertise.
CMS issued a statement regarding the allegations, as follows:
“We strongly reject the recent 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.
Since the brutal and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, CMS, like many businesses, has been reassessing its work for Russian clients and as we have already said, we will no longer be accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government and we will be withdrawing from Moscow.”
The Daily Mail reported: “her gilded CV namechecks former clients including Tom Cruise and Phillip Schofield and quotes legal handbooks that dub her ‘sophisticated,’ ‘tough,’ ‘effective’ and ‘shrewd’.
Paid £1,000 an hour, she is one of CMS’ top lawyers and acted for Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, two oligarchs who have been sanctioned by the EU.
Hugh Tomlinson QC is labelled by his website at Matrix Chambers as being “a doyen of media law, razor sharp one of the most respected and revered barristers in this area.”
Among the cases handled by the QC are those involving phone hacking litigation and Prince Charles’ case against the Mail on Sunday as well as many leading data protection, libel and privacy injunction cases.
His office failed to reply to questions put to him by LawFuel.
Putins’ People Case
Arabella Pike wrote that the ‘lawfare’ the companies faced was a “many headed monster”. It was used to “ferret out information” as to who had “ratted” and ENRC issued subpoenas against HarperCollins US in a futile attempt to obtain the names of Burgis’s sources, an action that cost tens of thousands of pounds.
“If the case against Burgis was expensive and terrifying, those faced by Catherine Belton have been described collectively as the “defamation case of the century”. Putin’s People was first published in April 2020 and acclaimed by The Sunday Times as “an outstanding exposé of Putin and his criminal pals”. Almost immediately we were hit by a flurry of letters from John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, acting for “a highly successful businessman”, one Roman Abramovich.“
She noted that things changed so far as the “oligarchical onslaught” was concerned following the claims by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he revealed details of Putin’s massive and ultra-luxurious Black Sea Palace.
“the law firms specialising in this are expensive and expert . . it seems to me they are masters of the bullying, righteous, lengthy letter, phrased to cause maximum psychological impact.”
“Over the next five weeks or so, squeaking in at the very end of the limitation period, we were hit by claims from Harbottle & Lewis, acting for Roman Abramovich; Geraldine Proudler of CMS for Alfa Group’s Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven; Keidan Harrison LLP for Shalva Chigirinsky; Schillings for Alisher Usmanov; and finally, the complaint with the most overt Kremlin fingerprints, Carter-Ruck for oil giant Rosneft, a corporation run by Putin’s old St Petersburg mucker and former deputy prime minister Igor Sechin. It was David v Goliath on steroids. A phalanx of the world’s richest men ganging up against a lone journalist.”
QC Hugh Tomlinson (pictured, right) acted for three oligarchs in their case against Catherine Belton and Harper Collins.
The lawyers and law firms acting in these matters are experts in these areas.
As Pike wrote, “the law firms specialising in this are expensive and expert . . it seems to me they are masters of the bullying, righteous, lengthy letter, phrased to cause maximum psychological impact.”
The proposed anti-SLAPP legislation that Dominic Raab has announced is something that would strengthen the public interest defence in the Defamation Act 2013. It would cap the costs that a claimant can recover to prevent the use of legal fees and court costs from being weaponised to hinder free speech and would introduce a requirement for actual malice to be proved.
It has been a move, together with the oligarch sanctions, that has affected the lawyers named by Bob Seely.
“The names of the solicitors we faced have been cited in parliament by MPs such as Bob Seely, Liam Byrne and David Davis. The lawyers all claim to represent the genuine legal interests of valid clients. Inconvenient, then, that most of these Russian oligarchs are now sanctioned,” Pike wrote.
“You need a spine of titanium to withstand the pressures of litigious billionaires. Stress does awful things to your health, whatever its cause. I think we all suffered sleepless nights, exhaustion and feelings of being stuck in a process that would never end. The letters are crafted to undermine confidence in yourself and your work. The financial costs are huge, but so are the psychological,” she said.
The effect of Lawfare continues until the anti-SLAPP legislation takes effect. In the meantime, the oligarchs’ lawyers face the sanctions and the increasing focus on their former clients.