Top London lawyers reject US congressman’s accusation of ‘enabling malign activities of Russian oligarchs’

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By CJ McKinney on


Carter-Ruck, CMS and other top firms hit back at representative Steve Cohen

London’s leading libel lawyers have hit back after an American congressman called for them to be given US visa bans.

Six top defamation and privacy lawyers rejected the charge of being “enablers of Russian oligarch” laid by Democrat Steve Cohen.

Cohen had asked the Biden administration to plan travel bans on six “individuals who have enabled malign activities of Russian oligarchs”. The six are Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck, John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers, Geraldine Proudler of CMS, Keith Schilling of Schillings and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of Rechtschaffen Law.

All have represented Russian clients but Cohen singled out what he described as “abusive suits” against the author and publisher of Putin’s People, in which Tait, Kelly, Proudler and Tomlinson acted.

But the outfits in question say Cohen’s accusations of “abusive lawsuits against journalists” are wide of the mark.

Carter-Ruck came out swinging, describing Cohen’s remarks as “misplaced” and “regrettable” and saying that the firm takes its regulatory and ethical obligations “extremely seriously”.

A spokesperson told Legal Cheek: “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.”

They continued: “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.”

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Harbottle & Lewis told the Law Society Gazette: “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 [Putin’s People] and ruled that it contained a number of defamatory allegations.” That ruling was handed down by Mrs Justice Tipples in November 2021.

While a spokesperson for Tomlimson popped up in the Financial Times (£) to insist: “Regulatory rules for lawyers are very strict and work to ensure equal entitlement to independent legal advice. Mr Tomlinson acted properly and in accordance with those rules throughout and has never acted as Mr Cohen suggests.”

CMS shot back with: “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.”

A spokesperson added that the firm is “no longer accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government”.

Kelly, Proudler, Tait and Tomlinson were described as “amoral lawyers” by Conservative MP Bob Seely in the House of Commons last month.

Schillings told Legal Cheek that the firm wasn’t acting for any “sanctioned entities, Russian or otherwise” and that the oligarch allegations were “wholly misplaced”.

The firm 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.”

Rechtschaffen, who is representing British-Israeli businessman Walter Soriano in actions against US investigative journalism platform Forensic News, told Legal Cheek: “I did not act for any Oligarch. Walter Soriano is not an enabler of any oligarch”. In a detailed statement, the solicitor pointed to jurisdictional rulings in his client’s favour establishing that “the claims brought by Mr. Soriano are neither libel tourism or any other abuse of process and that they have real prospects of success”.

He added: “Mr. Soriano was the first claimant since the Defamation Act 2013 was enacted nearly ten years ago to satisfy the very high barriers under English law and was given permission to bring his claim against a foreign media organisation”.