Russia says U.S. law firm White & Case can’t walk away from Yukos case

The White & Case offices in Washington, D.C., U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

  • Russian representative said law firm’s exit would have a “material adverse effect”
  • White & Case plans to end work for Russia “as soon as possible”

(Reuters) – Law firm White & Case will continue to defend Russia from a lawsuit seeking to enforce a $50 billion judgment against the country, after a Russian representative said he would oppose the firm’s efforts to exit the Washington, D.C., federal court case.

White & Case is among several major U.S. law firms that have sought to cut ties with Russian clients following the invasion of Ukraine. It said in March that it intended to withdraw from representing Russia in the D.C. case, which was brought by shareholders of the defunct oil company Yukos.

But in a court filing early Thursday, White & Case partner Carolyn Lamm said that due to the “complex and fact-intensive nature of the current phase of proceedings,” the firm cannot yet leave the case without breaching its ethical duty not to harm its client.

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The firm does plan to withdraw “as soon as possible under the ethical rules,” Lamm said. A White & Case spokesperson had no immediate comment.

Andrey Kondakov, director general of the International Centre for Legal Protection, an independent body created to defend Russia in complex litigation, said in a Thursday affidavit that he told White & Case that Russia will oppose any effort by the firm to leave the case because it “would have a material adverse effect” on the country’s interests.

Kondakov said the center has been looking for new attorneys to take over the case once White & Case can exit.

Yukos shareholders want the D.C. court to enforce a $50 billion arbitration award issued against Russia by a Hague tribunal. The U.S. litigation has been repeatedly paused as Russia challenged the judgment in Dutch courts, but Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in D.C. ruled in April that the case can move forward.

Separately, White & Case told a Manhattan federal judge in March that it would no longer defend the sanctioned Russian lender Sberbank from a lawsuit alleging it and other financial institutions facilitated money transfers to Russian separatists, who allegedly shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Sberbank has denied those claims.

Another law firm, Wilk Auslander, on Tuesday entered that case on behalf of Sberbank.

The case is Hulley Enterprises Ltd. v. Russian Federation, No. 14-cv-1996 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

For plaintiffs: Steven Shepard of Susman Godfrey

For Russia: Carolyn Lamm of White & Case

Read more:

U.S. judge says Russia can’t delay $50 bln Yukos case, citing sanctions

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