A U.S. congressman has written an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to deny U.S. visas to a number of U.K. lawyers caught up in criticism about Russia-related work.
Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, argued that a travel ban is required for “foreign enablers of Russian oligarchs.”
In the letter, posted on his Twitter account, Cohen asks Blinken to consider banning the visas of six U.K. lawyers: Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck, John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, Hugh Tomlinson QC, Geraldine Proudler of CMS, Keith Schilling of Schillings and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of Rechtschaffen Law.
“Among the worst such enablers have been certain lawyers in the United Kingdom. Despite our close ties with the United Kingdom, the nature of its libel laws and the vast amount of blood money in its financial system make it an ideal place for oligarchs to abuse the law to harass and intimidate,” Cohen wrote.
He then listed individuals who he said “have enabled malign activities of Russian oligarchs.”
“Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck, who has acted on behalf of Kremlin oil champion Rosneft on abusive suits against Catherine Belton and HarperCollins and worked for Gennady Timchenko in seeking to stifle investigative reporting.”
“John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, who represented Roman Abramovich in his abusive lawsuit against Catherine Belton and HarperCollins.”
“Hugh Tomlinson, who represented Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman, and Petr Aven in abusive suits against Catherine Belton and HarperCollins.”
“Geraldine Proudler of CMS, who worked for Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven in abusive suits against HarperCollins and worked for Major Pavel Karpov, formerly of the Russian Interior Ministry, in an abusive suit against Bill Browder.”
“Keith Schilling of Shillings, who is well known for bringing abusive suits against journalists and worked tirelessly to protect the fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low, is accused by U.S. prosecutors of running a money laundering scheme to embezzle billions of dollars from Malaysian state investment fund, 1MDB. Schillings sent legal threats to UK booksellers to prevent them from selling a book about their clients that was published by reporters working for The Wall Street Journal.”
“Shlomo Rechtschaffen, who is representing Walter Soriano, an enabler of Oleg Deripaska, Roman Abramovich, and Dmitry Rybolovlev, in an abusive lawsuit against Scott Stedman.”
Four of the group—Tait, Kelly, Tomlinson and Proudler—were named in the U.K.’s House of Commons last month by the Conservative MP Bob Seeley during a parliamentary debate on Russian sanctions.
CMS took issue with the congressman’s allegations.
“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 CMS spokesperson said.
“Congressman Cohen says he seeks to sanction lawyers who are currently performing work for Russian clients, but as we have said since the invasion of Ukraine, CMS is no longer accepting new instructions from Russian-based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government,” the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, a person with knowledge of the situation said in regards to Hugh Tomlinson QC that “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. There is therefore no proper basis for Mr Cohen’s request.”
A spokesperson for Carter-Ruck also said the allegations were unfounded.
“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,” the spokesperson said, adding that the firm condemns 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,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Schillings said the firm does not comment on client matters and is not permitted to do so.
“But we fail to see how any representation of the Malaysian national named by Congressman Cohen could in any circumstances support the (in any event wholly misplaced) allegations that we are acting in the manner alleged in relation to Russian ‘oligarchs,’” the spokesperson said. ”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.”
Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Solicitors Regulation Authority announced that it had begun spot checks on firms named in Parliament in order to “assess compliance” with the financial sanctions regime.
The regulator also confirmed that it would ask those who had made allegations in Parliament for further information in order to investigate any misconduct.
Harbottle & Lewis and Rechtschaffen Law did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.