Law Firms

Former Skadden associate's guilty plea shines light on firm's work for 'unsavory' foreign figures

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A guilty plea by a former London associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is shining a light on the law firm’s work for foreign figures and their U.S. lobbyists.

Skadden “mostly keeps quiet” about the profitable work for “unsavory foreign figures,” according to the New York Times. Now, lawyers at the firm are reportedly feeling uneasy amid special counsel Robert Mueller's scrutiny of its work on behalf of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was allied with Russia.

The associate, Alex Van Der Zwaan, pleaded guilty last Tuesday to making false statements related to his Ukraine work. The law firm was hired in 2012 by the Ukraine Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival to Yanukovych. The Skadden report concluded Tymoshenko was denied counsel at critical stages of her trial but her conviction was supported by evidence.

Van Der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying about deleted emails and his contacts with Rick Gates, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump. Gates pleaded guilty on Friday to charges related to Ukrainian work he did with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Skadden has turned over documents related to its Ukraine work at the request of the special counsel’s office, according to the Times. The newspaper reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has investigated $4 million in alleged secret payments, some of which was used to pay Skadden.

Mueller is also looking at Skadden’s work on behalf of two Washington, D.C., lobbying firms that were paid to support Yanukovych’s government, Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group, the article reports.

One issue raised by the increased scrutiny is when there is a need to disclose lobbying and public relations work for foreign actors under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Skadden prepared an opinion in 2012 that the two lobbying firms did not have to register under the law. The opinion was based on information that the lobbying firms had received payments for their work from a nonprofit group that was not controlled or supervised by the Ukrainian government. Gates has admitted he misled Skadden when he supplied the information.

Skadden also reportedly concluded it did not have to register its Ukraine work under FARA.

Skadden has also represented Russian oligarchs and companies aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the Times the firm’s work “is part of a trend in recent years of lobbyists and lawyers earning increasingly larger paydays by marketing their connections in Washington to foreign politicians, countries and companies willing to pay hefty fees to burnish their reputations in the United States and on the international stage.”

A Skadden spokeswoman told the Times in a statement that the firm is cooperating in the special counsel’s investigation. The statement noted that Van Der Zwaan had been fired, and the lying allegations are “contrary to our values, policies and expectations.”

The statement also said that none of the firm’s lawyers engaged in activity requiring registration under FARA.

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