‘Londongrad’ is under threat with the Ukraine war and the pressure on ‘enabling’ lawyers who act for oligarchs
Lawyers who act for oligarchs in Britain are under intense pressure from multiple quarters to take action against ‘Londongrad’, or the ‘London laundromat’ that is used to launder Russian money.
Lord Carlile QC said in the House of Lords that a host of law firms had been involved in their work for Russian oligarchs as he called for a stop to their efforts.
“I suggest to the minister that we should now create a register of lawyers’ activities for Russian citizens and their strong connections as an adjunct to the new National Security and Investment Act system, which was introduced in recent weeks.”
The call was echoed by others across the political divide, as well as by journalists and others who want to remove the oligarch access to the City’s money laundering enablers, including otherwise respectable legal names, accountants, banks and others.
Former Wall Street Journal editor Baroness Jane Wheatcroft said freezing the assets of Russian banks was only a start to what should occur as she referred to the huge money paid by oligarch to lawyers for their efforts to represent their interests.
“The huge fees paid to bankers, lawyers and accountants to bring companies to market seemed an incentive for them to see the best, not the worst, in those companies. Now we need to be assured that these companies properly deserve a listing on our stock market…
“We also have to look at the highly commercial approach of some of our major law firms.”
Several well known law firms advertise their Russian-speaking lawyers used to assist Russian clients, along with other firms that market their ability to service Russian clients to comply with money laundering rules.
Baroness Kramer said the kleptocrat unit at the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) should ‘tackle’ the enablers to end the practice.
SLAPP Legislation Call
The arguments over lawyers acting for oligarchs and others follows a recent cross-party debate in the UK parliament over the use of ‘SLAPPs’ to suppress reportage about oligarch activity.
Slapps are a form of legal harassment that exploits lengthy and expensive legal procedures to silence journalists, critics and others who are reporting matters that wealthy clients want suppressed.
The day prior to the UK debate in the House of Commons on Ukraine, Conservative MP Bob Seely (pictured, left) called for action to be taken “to stop unscrupulous law firms from offering intimidation services to oligarchs and kleptocrats”.
Mr Seely said that the UK government needed to “end the cancer” of high-end law firms selling “intimidation services” to oligarchs – the so-called ‘lawfare’ actions.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that some law firms were holding up the ability of the government to sanction oligarchs, a statement that others have criticized on the basis that lawyers could not ‘hold up’ such legislative moves.
Susan Hawley, the executive director of Spotlight on Corruption, noted that, under section 23 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, the targets of sanctions “may request the minister revoke the designation” and she commented that it was likely that lawyers would be debating the designation issue with the Foreign Office for some time.
But she said calls to name and shame law firms for doing so should be called out.
The issues surrounding lawyers who act for oligarchs is front and centre for many in the law, given the Ukrainian disaster.