At the time of writing, the British government has sanctioned more than 1,600 Russian entities and individuals connected to the Putin regime waging war in Ukraine. Just last week Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced that Russian businesses are officially banned from soliciting the services of UK accountants, management consultants and PR firms – an array of services which account for 10% of Russian imports in these sectors.
However, a glaringly obvious section of the ‘professional services’ world is missing from the sanctions thus far; law firms.
Time and time again British courts have been exploited and utilised by the Russian kleptocracy and their network of cronies.
And despite the package of sanctions issued against the regime and its enablers in the past few months, law firms like CMS, and multi-million pound litigation funders Harbour, are profiting from loopholes in the system.
Kevin Hollinrake, the Tory backbencher, recently wrote a damning letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for the government to put an end to law and other professional services firms benefiting from the Kremlin’s blatant abuse of international law and disregard for state sovereignty.
To be sure, a number of law firms have dropped their Russian clients and removed their practices from the exiled nation, however, it is apparent that those whose mantra remains ‘cash is king’ are unwilling to come to their moral senses and do the same.
In doing so they are perpetuating the “corruption” of the British legal system, as outlined by Bob Seely MP in the Commons.
Is it not enough that one of our closest allies, a nation we purport to maintain a special relationship with, has banned six top British lawyers from entering the United States for “[enabling] Putin’s oligarchs by engaging in abusive lawsuits
Any guesses as to the firms these lawyers are from? Will the real CMS please stand up?
CMS has cited “public interest” as a reason for continuing their crusade on behalf of the Russian state-owned DIA, an entity responsible for pursuing funds and assets from failed Russian credit institutions and their shareholders. This begs the question of whose public interest they are protecting, with everything pointing to Mother Russia.
What is perhaps more concerning is that CMS has won a number of UK state contracts whilst working on behalf of Russian individuals and entities linked to the Kremlin’s nefarious activities. Most recently, CMS was one of six suppliers to win a £13m contract with UK government departments set to run until January 2024.
And they’re not the only ones. Grant Thornton, the British accountancy firm is also engaged in simultaneously working on behalf of the Russian and UK governments.
While the happy days of gaining from Russia might be at an end, it is still of great concern that the UK government departments Grant Thornton was engaged with were involved with issues of national security.
Yes, you read that right. Grant Thornton has been awarded over 200 UK state contracts, amounting to more than £23m in aggregate value since 2018, whilst also working on behalf of creditors who include Russian state-owned entities…if this doesn’t make you feel uneasy, what will?
Another guess as to who is funding the DIA and CMS? Ding ding ding, Harbour Litigation Fund! And what are they set to gain from their involvement… oh, only 30% of the total recovered funds from the DIA’s bankruptcy proceedings against Anatoly Motylev, the former owner of Russian Credit Bank with a debt of over £2bn set to find its way back to the Kremlin via the DIA.
While currently not ‘illegal’, these firms continue to line their pockets and contravene the wider global communities’ efforts
Without further directives from Number 10 aimed at stopping these iniquitous activities they will continue to do so, right under our noses, and with impunity.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority must do more than conduct ‘spot checks’ on firms said to be working for Russian oligarchs and the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OSFI) must revise its current modus operandi of issuing lawyers licences to act on behalf of sanctioned clients in return for a reasonable fee.
Needless to say, the current sanctions regime has and continues to stifle the abilities of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine, however, as a global community, we must go further to protect the people and democratic institutions we hold sacred in our own countries.
Going forward, the allied governments must look at targeting the network of professional services firms and individuals who are utilised by Putin’s web of comrades to further their crimes against humanity.