White shoe lawyers Dechert dump Russia-linked Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor after US sanctions

CHIȘINĂU–Kremlin-friendly oligarchs are becoming too toxic for UK and US lawyers to work for in the wake of global sanctions amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The controversial Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor has been linked by the US government with Russia’s security service, the FSB, as well as large-scale economic crime – but his now ex-law firm’s own record is also far from spotless.

Image author: Kevin Burden (source: Flickr, license: Creative Commons)

A US designation of Moldova’s Ilan Shor on October 26 proved too much for Dechert to swallow, in light of allegations from American officials that the firm’s client was a stooge of Russian espionage.

“We no longer represent Mr. Shor, and have not since the sanctions designation,” said Roger Burlingame in a reply to an emailed question from Reporter. Burlingame is a London lawyer with Dechert LLP, and is also accredited to act in US court, having started his career as a US prosecutor. Burlingame was named as Shor’s lawyer only days before Shor’s sanctioning, and did not answer other questions from Reporter related to his firm’s relationship to Shor in his email from November 21.

Shor had posted a press release in English on his political party’s website on October 7, about his engagement with Dechert, suggesting the powerful firm would be helping him fight a grand fraud case in Moldovan court, which Shor is appealing.

He could not be contacted for comment in time for publication and his party’s spokeswoman Alina Sargu declined to comment.

The infamous fraud Shor was linked to is known as “Moldova’s missing billion” or “the theft of the century” which saw three top banks bankrupted in short order by fraudulent loans to insiders, including Shor, and which cost one of Europe’s poorest countries 12% of GDP in 2015.

As he reportedly waits in Israel for the outcome of his trial, Shor plays the role of pro-Russian politician-in-exile.

Shor is also clinging to a seat in Moldova’s parliament, which he won in elections even as he was fighting his initial fraud conviction. It has since come to light that he had been using his wealth to induce people to vote for him and paying people to attend protests in the capital against the democratically-elected government.

Shor spent money on polishing his image and buying online promotions for his campaign against the high cost of living and broader economic crisis Moldova has been plunged into.

Yet, the crisis is owed partly to economic instability caused by years of all-encompassing fraud and money laundering, in which Shor was a protagonist, and partly to the invasion of Ukraine by the same Russian government which is supporting Shor.

Shor has been taking regular trips to Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine, meeting officials from the Kremlin, where he was accepted as an ally. The US government said Shor has been plotting with Russian spies and “political technologists” about overthrowing the democratically elected government in Moldova.

Furthermore, Shor’s wife, the glamorous but no longer fashionable Russian singer known as Jasmin, who was also sanctioned by the US in the same announcement, is said to be a close friend of the wife of Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Previously unknown to the public was the depth of the collaboration between the FSB and Shor’s campaign of destabilisation in Moldova.

This was explored in detail by the US announcements from the State Department and Treasury, as well as a blockbuster article in the Washington Post by veteran Russia reporter Catherine Belton, who relied on secret intelligence leaked by Ukraine’s security service.

“Recently, all the Russian media, all the Kremlin media, beginning with September 2022, began to present Mr. Shor as the so called leader of Moldovan opposition. So actually Kremlin is supporting the main suspect in the billion dollar theft in Moldova. This is the real face of the Kremlin. They support thieves, they support people who should face justice, who shouldn’t be in power. That’s why Mr. Shor has been put under sanctions,” anticorruption campaigner Sergiu Tofilat told Reporter. Tofilat is also the head of Watchdog.md, an NGO.

Dechert’s disorder

Dechert, for its part, is an American law firm with its own set of reputational and legal problems on either side of the Atlantic. Firstly, it took on Shor days before the sanctions kicked in and despite a formal recommendation from US lawmakers on the influential Foreign Affairs Committee in July, for the US to sanction him alongside two other malicious Moldovan oligarchs, one of whom, Vladimir Plahotniuc, is also suspected of benefiting from devastating financial crimes and corruption in Moldova and is hiding abroad. Plahotniuc was sanctioned by the US alongside Shor.

The other name mentioned by US lawmakers is that of Veaceslav Platon, who has been residing in London while hiding from Moldovan law looking to speak with him about fraud, corruption and money laundering, which he denies. He has not been sanctioned.

Dechert is meanwhile on trial in the US for allegedly using hackers to illegally obtain evidence, which it denies, according to press reports. Among the several plaintiffs against the firm is Jay Solomon, a prominent journalist who claims his career was ruined by mercenary hackers at Dechert’s behest. To boot, Dechert is also accused of fraud and money laundering, similar allegations to those it was supposed to defend Shor from, and which both parties deny.

On British shores, the firm became widely known for a conflict with one of its former clients, the mining company ENRC from notoriously corrupt Kazakhstan. Its trial defending allegations brought by ENRC concluded earlier this year, highlighting extensive misconduct on Dechert’s behalf, including turning a blind eye to its star lawyer’s unethical ways of driving up fees, as well as violating legal privilege, false advice, and general dishonesty. That lawyer has since left the firm, according to media reports.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority of the UK is still considering its punishment following the damning judgment.

To conclude, it would be fair to ask not only if Dechert bothered to do any background research on Ilan Shor before agreeing to represent him in the first place, but also if Shor did any due diligence on Dechert.