Alexander Tugushev: London Solicitors Peters & Peters, Allegations of Fraud and Money Laundering

May 20th 2021 will mark one year of Russian lawyer Yulia Vasilkina’s attempts to get an answer from her London colleagues of Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP in the fraud case against the former Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Agency for Fishery, Alexander Tugushev. The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs put the ex-official on the international wanted list in March last year.

According to materials of the criminal case file, before fleeing to London Tugushev offered a Murmansk businessman, Alexander Sychev, a joint business project.  For this joint project, Tugushev received 41 million roubles from Sychev. Yet the project never happened and the money disappeared with Tugushev.  The authorities subsequently brought charges against Tugushev in absentia: he was charged with large-scale fraud.

“The preliminary investigatory bodies charged person T., who is on the international wanted list, with a particularly large-scale theft by deception of money belonging to person S. (part 4, article 159 of the Criminal Code),” said court spokeswoman Inna Zhelonkina.

The fate of the stolen 41 million roubles remains unknown. The same applies to the $3.7 million bribe, which Tugushev received from fishing company Pollucks promising them fishing quotas in return. Kommersant wrote at the time in 2007 that Tugushev was sentenced to six years in prison for this crime, but the investigators never found the money. There is an irresistible suspicion that through a series of offshores and sham deals, the money has landed somewhere on the foggy shores of Britain.

Tugushev himself received a visa to the UK notwithstanding his criminal past, posing as an innocent victim of political persecution. A letter was sent to the British Foreign Office stressing that the criminal case against him for extorting money from Pollucks in 2004 was “politically motivated”.

In England, Tugushev found himself quickly. He hired lawyers from Peters & Peters and began to sue his former partners, Magnus Roth and Vitaly Orlov.

Yulia Vasilkina, the lawyer of Tugushev’s fraud victim, Sychev, justifiably believes that the funding of the litigation in the High Court of London with Tugushev’s former partners may come from the money stolen from her client. This in itself constitutes a new crime not to mention the substantial damage it bears on the image of British justice.

In London, Tugushev is represented by Keith Oliver of Peters & Peters Solicitors LLP. Vasilkina has been trying to contact the London lawyer for a whole year, asking for his cooperation in recovering the money stolen from Sychev.

Vasilkina sent her first request, outlining all facts and arguments, to Oliver in May 2020. “We ask that the evidence and information set out in this notice be taken into account in the proceedings in the High Court in London against Mr Vitaly Orlov, Mr Magnus Roth, Mr Andrei Petrik, and provide all possible assistance in recovering the money stolen by A.I. Tugushev,” the letter read.

There was no response from London. A month later, Vasilkina sent a second letter to Oliver with a request to inform of Tugushev’s whereabouts. The second letter was also ignored by the former official’s representative.

Vasilkina asked Oliver to confirm or deny that Tugushev was living in London. “The establishment of Tugushev’s whereabouts is necessary to remove obstacles that prevent justice to be served in the Russian Federation and to recover the damages caused by Tugushev’s crime,” stressed the victim’s lawyer.

A third request followed in September 2020, which also went unanswered. Tugushev’s representative ignored all of Vasilkina’s attempts to bring to his attention that the litigation in London with Magnus Roth and Vitaly Orlov might be financed with the money stolen from Sychev, an act which falls within the definition of money laundering under British law.

For Oliver, this is not the first sign that the trial around Norebo may be part of a money-laundering scheme. “In this trial, Tugushev looks like no more than a ‘frontman’ — or perhaps a hostage in a group with not one, but two false bottoms – ‘delegates from the criminal world’, bogus lords and dubious intermediaries,” reported Novye Izvestia.

Managing partner of law firm Dukhina and Partners, lawyer Ekaterina Dukhina, explains what rules the British lawyers have set for themselves:

“In 2005, the English court ruling in Bowman v Fels [2005] EWCA Civ 226 lowered the standards for checking the origin of funds in cases involving dispute resolution. Accordingly, it is now virtually impossible to charge dispute resolution lawyers with a failure to comply with the requirements to establish the provenance of funds under section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or with money laundering. However, lawyers engaged in transactional work must meet higher requirements to verify the origin of the funds. There is clearly a double standard.

Unfortunately, English law and the Solicitors Code of Conduct have no rules that would oblige Oliver to respond to requests from third parties, whether from Russia or any other country. All of Oliver’s obligations are solely to his client or the court. Accordingly, Tugushev must have been informed of Vasilkina’s request, but most likely he instructed Oliver not to respond to those requests. Therefore, Oliver is not responsible for ignoring Vasilkina’s requests in the absence of a court order.”

Our editorial board sought a comment directly from Mr Oliver. We asked him to comment on whether he had received the requests from Vasilkina, and if so, why he chose to ignore them and whether he knew the sources of his client’s money. Unfortunately, at the time of publication we have not received a reply. Nevertheless, we are ready to accommodate any response from Mr Oliver and his client Aleksander Tugushev.

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