Legal Cheek

Trouble in paradise? The Queen, Bono and Mrs Brown’s Boys stars linked to law firm data leak

But offshore outfit is still looking to recruit a trainee lawyer

The actions of one of the world’s largest providers of offshore legal services is under the spotlight this week after millions of confidential client documents were leaked.

Appleby, which was founded by English lawyer Reginald Appleby in 1898, is relatively small in size compared to its City of London peers. It has around 470 members of staff, 60 partners, and ten offices. Its branches are located in the likes of the idyllic Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Mauritius, as well as the Isle of Man and Guernsey. According to its website, the firm specialises in asset finance, investment management, trusts and more.

Appleby’s head office in Bermuda

So why has this, with the greatest respect to Appleby, relatively unknown legal player among law students suddenly hit headlines across the globe? Well, unfortunately for the firm and its discreet clientele, it appears to have become the victim of a mass data leak.

Dubbed the ‘Paradise Papers’, reports suggest that over 13 million files containing the offshore financial affairs of celebrities, politicians and multinational businesses have made their way into the hands of investigative journalists.

And these are big name clients. The BBC’s Panorama reported yesterday evening that even the Queen of England had links to Appleby. The programme claimed to have seen documentation that allegedly suggested the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the Queen with an income, held around £10 million offshore, including a small amount which ended up being invested in a company behind controversial weekly payment retailer BrightHouse.

Responding to the claims, a spokesperson for the Duchy of Lancaster said:

“We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds. All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate.”

Other big names to be linked to the firm, according to Panorama, are: ex-Conservative party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft and Donald Trump’s aid and the United States Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. U2 frontman Bono and stars of Mrs Brown’s Boys have also been named.

In a lengthy statement issued yesterday, a spokesperson for Appleby said that it was “satisfied that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing” on its part and branded the leak a “serious criminal act”. It continued:

“Appleby operates in highly regulated jurisdictions and like all professional organisations in our regions, we are subject to frequent regulatory checks and we are committed to achieving the high standards set by our regulators. We are also committed to the highest standards of client service and confidentiality. It is what we stand for. This commitment is unequivocal.”

In lighter Appleby news, Legal Cheek can report that the firm is looking to recruit a trainee lawyer. Its career page reveals that applications for its “2018 Pupillage Trainee Program” are now open. However, those keen to put their name forward must be Bermudian, spouses of Bermudians or have a permanent resident certificate.

In 2016, a similar data breach occurred involving Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Legal Cheek reported at the time that the leaked documents — which inspired a range of unofficial T-shirts (pictured below) — contained the names of all five magic circle law firms.

The unofficial Mossack Fonseca T-shirts

At the time, Linklaters, Freshfields, Clifford Chance, Slaughter and May and Allen & Overy all declined comment, while Mossack Fonseca said it had become the focus of a “witch-hunt”.