Illegal Roman Abramovich raids: Police to pay thousands in legal fees

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THE States police have been ordered to pay tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees to lawyers representing parties with alleged links to sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich – after carrying out unlawful searches.

Appearing before Commissioner Sir William Bailhache in the Royal Court on Monday, advocates representing two applicants – who began proceedings against the force last year – received a judgment ruling that more than half of their legal bills would be covered with taxpayers’ money.

Advocate Jeremy Heywood, acting for the applicant referred to as ‘XY’ and Advocate Paul Nicholls, representing the company referred to as ‘A Limited’ had locked horns with the States police’s legal team over the issue in December.

Proceedings first began after officers raided a domestic property and an office of the applicants – which allegedly have links to Mr Abramovich – in April 2022.

Mr Abramovich had his assets frozen, some of which were believed to be held in Jersey, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

The domestic premises was the home of XY – understood to be an English solicitor employed by a sanctioned ‘entity’ – and his family, while the office in St Helier was the premises of A Limited.

Search warrants were granted on the strength of affidavits sworn by a Detective Sergeant, using article 15 of the Police Procedures and Criminal Evidence (Jersey) Law 2003.

Summarising the content of the affidavits in his judgment, Sir William said: ‘The investigation concerned assets held through and managed by Jersey companies suspected to be relevantly connected to Roman Abramovich.

‘Intelligence suggested that XY had been involved in discussions with the directors regarding the sale of subsidiaries within the group under investigation and that he and A Limited had taken steps which had or could have been in breach of the sanctions law and/or amounted to money laundering.’

The raids preceded a freeze of more than $7bn-worth of assets suspected to be connected to Mr Abramovich, through a Royal Court order known as a ‘saisie judiciaire’.

Later that month, English soliciting firm Corker Binning wrote to a Crown Advocate, confirming they were instructed by XY and that local Jersey representatives would shortly be appointed.

The firm sought copies of supporting material used in the application for the warrants and questioned their lawfulness.

On 25 April, Advocate Heywood wrote a letter to the police setting out a proposed application for judicial review, on the basis that there was no power to issue the warrants under Article 15(1)(a) of the 2003 law, as some of the material to be seized contained items subject to legal privilege.

Police chief Robin Smith later admitted – at an unpublicised court hearing – that the search warrants were obtained unlawfully and agreed to apologise to two applicants and pay damages to them using public funds.

Advocate Steven Meiklejohn, representing the force, said this was because the application for the warrants was made under the wrong article of the law.

The police’s legal team then went back and forth with the advocates representing the two applicants in December, over how big a share of the legal bills the force should pay. The lawyers argued that their clients were entitled to ‘indemnity costs’ – which could equate to 70 to 80% of their legal bills.

However, the police argued that they should only be required to pay lower ‘standard costs’, amounting to 60 to 70% of the bills.

In his judgment, which was handed down to all three parties at a Royal Court hearing yesterday afternoon, Sir William said both applicants ‘moved their position from time to time’ between August and November, but that XY and A Limited had indicated their costs were in the region of £170,000 and £175,000 respectively.

Sir William described the costs, if incurred on an indemnity basis, as ‘eye-watering’.

‘The risk of such a costs order might inhibit a public authority such as the police from doing their duty to investigate crime,’ he said.

Instead, Sir William ruled that standard costs should be paid by the police to each applicant up to 9 November, which was when it was agreed that costs would be paid.

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