The High Court has dismissed an application to remove a supervising solicitor who oversaw a search which uncovered thousands of pounds worth of handbag invoices.

Mr Justice Henshaw found that Frederick Warburton, a solicitor at Bankside Commercial, had not directly breached a search order or showed a lack of independence when he was supervising the search of a storage facility near Harrods in London. 

The application to remove the solicitor relates to an underlying dispute, in which the claimant – London Partners Capital Management LLP – has accused its former chief executive of misappropriating €74m and $83m of funds belonging to an Albanian bank.

A search order was made last year and was subsequently extended to cover Alina Roxana Moise, the applicant in the current case. It is purported that she received some of the allegedly misappropriated funds.

A search of a storage facility took place in March 2021 and Mishcon de Reya, solicitors for the claimant, identified a number of invoices for sums in excess of £5,000, mainly relating to handbags. According to the judgment, 34 similar invoices for sums in excess of £5,000 had already been removed during the search of a different premises.

Moise applied to the High Court to remove Warburton as supervising solicitor with immediate effect. She objected to the participation of a Mishcon trainee in the search; to Warburton’s experience; and to the removal of items pre-dating 1 October 2017, the date on which money is first alleged to have been misappropriated.

The court dismissed the application, finding that neither Warburton’s experience, nor his previous work as supervising solicitor on other cases involving Mishcon, ‘cast any doubt on his suitability to have been appointed, and to continue to act, as supervising solicitor in this case’.

Henshaw J also concluded that while the trainee’s participation in the search was not consistent with the practice direction, it was not a direct breach of the search order. ‘I find it hard to see how this factor could genuinely have given risen to distress,’ he said.

Suggestions that Warburton had been willing to ‘bend over backwards to help the claimants’ were ‘extravagant and unjustifiable’ he added.

However, the judge ordered the claimant to hand over documents pre-dating 1 October 2017 to the supervising solicitors, and delete any additional copies they may have made, pending a decision on whether they fall within the scope of the search order.

Steptoe & Johnson UK LLP represent the respondents.