White & Case hit with record £250,000 fine over conflict of interest breaches in Ukrainian oligarch case

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By Thomas Connelly on

A partner was also fined a further £50,000

White & Case has been hit with a mammoth £250,000 fine by the regulator after it accepted it had breached rules in relation to conflict of interest and client confidentiality.

The financial penalty — set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and later approved by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) — is the largest ever dished out to a single firm.

The fine is connected to White & Case’s handling of a multi-billion dispute between Ukrainian businessmen. In 2014, the High Court blocked the firm from acting for Ukrainian client Victor Pinchuk over fears of a conflict of interest, Mr Justice Field concluding: “White & Case will be enjoined from acting for Mr Pinchuk in the Commercial Court action.”

On this, an SRA notice published yesterday afternoon states White & Case allowed work to be carried out without taking “adequate steps” to ensure that “no conflict or significant risk of conflict existed between the interests of clients.” Moreover, it reveals the global giant accepted instructions without taking steps to ensure “the confidentiality of information provided to the firm by clients was protected.” In doing so, White & Case admitted it “acted recklessly”.

In addition to the hefty firm fine, the SRA also hit White & Case partner David Goldberg with an individual sanction of £50,000.

Goldberg — a solicitor-advocate specialising in international commercial law — admitted acting for clients where there was a “significant risk” of a conflict of interest. Furthermore, he accepted that he: “provided confidential information concerning the work being undertaken on behalf of a client in one matter to a partner in the firm involved in acting on a matter giving rise to a significant risk of a conflict of interest between clients.”

The notice then adds:

For the avoidance of doubt the SRA did not allege that the firm or Mr Goldberg acted dishonestly. Further, the SRA, having considered the evidence submitted by and on behalf of Mr Goldberg and the firm, did not pursue allegations of lack of integrity against either Mr Goldberg or the firm.

A spokesman for White & Case said:

While it would not be appropriate to comment until the SDT has published its judgment, we have been cooperating fully with the SRA and accept the orders which will be made by the SDT. We are committed to upholding the legal industry’s highest standards at all times, in all of the jurisdictions where we operate.

Until yesterday, the highest ever financial sanction handed out to an individual firm was to Clyde & Co. In March, Legal Cheek reported that the City outfit had been slapped with a £50,000 fine for breaching money laundering and accounting rules.

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