A US congressman has called for six leading UK lawyers to be banned from the country as ‘foreign enablers of Russian oligarchs’ – a charge which was vigorously contested by the lawyers and law firms named.

Rep Steve Cohen has asked the US government to impose travel bans on five solicitors and a barrister for allegedly enabling the ‘malign activities’ of oligarchs in bringing claims against journalists in England.

‘Oligarchs, who hire lawyers to engage in abusive lawsuits against journalists to silence them, cannot exert malign influence in our system and the systems of our democratic allies without their enablers,’ Cohen wrote to US secretary of state Antony Blinken this week.

He added that some of ‘the worst such enablers have been certain lawyers’ in the UK, saying English 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’.

The Law Society condemned the practice of 'publicly naming lawyers and threatening them with punishments without due process'.

Cohen named Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck, John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis, Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers and Geraldine Proudler of CMS – who were also named by Conservative MP Bob Seely in parliament last month – as well as Keith Schilling of Schillings and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of Rechtschaffen Law.

The Tennessee congressman referred to Tait, Kelly, Tomlinson and Proudler’s involvement in separate claims against journalist Catherine Belton and publisher HarperCollins over her book Putin’s People – claims which were ultimately discontinued and which Cohen described as ‘abusive’.

Cohen also suggested that Schilling is ‘well known for bringing abusive suits against journalists’ and referred to Rechtschaffen’s representation of UK-based Israeli businessman Walter Soriano, who he said is an ‘enabler’ of Russian oligarchs including Oleg Deripaska.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)

Cohen says six UK lawyers should be banned as ‘foreign enablers of Russian oligarchs’

Source: Greg Nash/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

‘While the Biden administration and our allies have imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs since the brutal full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the enablers of kleptocracy have remained untouched,’ Cohen wrote to Blinken. ‘The United States must crack down on both oligarchs and enablers to end the system of global corruption that made possible this horrific war.’

However, representatives of the six lawyers pushed back strongly against Cohen’s comments, which they said were ‘misconceived’, ‘misinformed’ and ‘absurd’.

A spokesperson for Carter-Ruck said the claims made against the firm are ‘misconceived and are rejected entirely’, adding: ‘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.’

A spokesperson for Harbottle & Lewis said: ‘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 the book [Putin’s People] and ruled that it contained a number of defamatory allegations.’

A spokesperson for Tomlinson said: ‘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.’

A spokesperson for CMS said: ‘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.’

‘We have certainly not brought any abusive legal actions,’ a spokesperson for Schillings said. ‘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 described Cohen’s allegations as ‘absurd’ and said that Soriano ‘is not an enabler of any oligarch’. He also rejected the suggestion that his client’s claim was abusive.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: 'Like governments and professions across the world, UK legal professionals have withdrawn from Russia since its invasion of Ukraine and review their work to ensure they and their clients comply with sanctions. There are already moves in the UK to address strategic lawsuits against public participation and we are supporting the UK government’s work on this.

'Publicly naming lawyers and threatening them with punishments without due process lacks any sense of justice or adherence to the rule of law. What’s needed now is sensible reform that addresses the issues head on. It is in the public interest that our justice system works for all people regardless of their means and produces fair outcomes, so we welcome the government’s initiative to strengthen and clarify the rules surrounding this kind of lawsuit.'


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