Defence Secretary Received Funding for Private Party from Law Firm Lobbying for Putin’s Sanctioned Banks
Along with three other Conservative MPs, Ben Wallace accepted a £10,000 donation from legal giant Squire Patton Boggs, which lobbied on behalf of Gazprombank and others
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace received funding for a private party from a global law firm that lobbied on behalf of the sanctioned Russian bank Gazprombank – a donation defended by the UK’s Ministry of Defence as “nothing odd”, Byline Times can reveal.
Wallace is one of four Conservative MPs with financial links to the legal giant Squire Patton Boggs, which represents Gazprombank and two other sanctioned Russian banks Sberbank and VTB Bank.
Squire Patton Boggs has previously lobbied to lift sanctions imposed on Russia over the 2014 Ukraine crisis, and also has ties to several other lobbying groups involved in the 2016 Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns – including disgraced digital campaigning group Cambridge Analytica and US lobbying firm Goddard Gunster.
Gazprombank is Russia’s third-largest bank, founded by the state-owned gas company Gazprom. Squire Patton Boggs’ clients include other Russian banks close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sberbank and VTB Bank.
All three banks are top targets of Western sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine.
Other Conservative MPs who have received funding from the law firm are Jake Berry, former Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth Minister at the Cabinet Office; Nigel Adams, Minister of State in the Cabinet Office; and former Conservative Party Co-Chairman Amanda Milling, now Minister for Asia and the Middle East in the Foreign Office.
Data published in the parliamentary register of interests shows that Wallace, Berry, Adams and Milling each separately registered a £10,000 donation from Squire Patton Boggs to fund a “private party” which they all co-hosted.
The donations were received on 15 December 2015 – just one day after the House of Lords approved the European Union Referendum Act, allowing Britons to vote for or against Brexit the following year.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Byline Times: “Squire Patton Boggs are an international law firm with hundreds of clients operating in over 40 countries. There is nothing odd about them hosting an event for MPs and any suggestion this equates to accepting Gazprom money is simply misleading.”
But the financial links between Government ministers – including the UK’s Defence Secretary – and a law firm acting on behalf of Putin-linked Russian banks throws stark new light on why Britain has been slow to execute sanctions, compared to the swift action taken by other European countries.
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Squire Patton Boggs is one of the world’s largest law firms, operating 47 offices in more than 20 countries. It runs a major office in Moscow, where it assists with “the most prestigious and landmark projects across Russia”, according to The Legal 500.
As set out in lobbying disclosure reports filed with the US Congress, Squire Patton Boggs has lobbied the US State Department and Senate on behalf of Gazprombank from late 2014 to the end of 2017, for which it has been paid approximately $1.5 million.
On 15 December 2015, when the firm gave money to the four Conservative MPs, it had received $100,000 from Gazprombank for lobbying work done that quarter.
Squire Patton Boggs was lobbying the State Department and Senate to lift US Treasury Department sanctions imposed in July 2014 against Russia over its invasion and occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Gazprombank had been added to a list of Russian companies barred from debt financing with US institutions. Two former senators were hired by the law firm for the lobbying.
But Gazprombank is far from the only major Russian client of Squire Patton Boggs. Its website boasts that “our Moscow-based lawyers liaise with governmental agencies of the Russian Federation to overcome any potential challenges”.
According to its website, its clients include “the largest Russian and international corporations across a variety of industries, such as banking, energy and natural resources, telecommunications, retail and e-commerce, manufacturing, infrastructure, technology, pharmaceuticals, automotive, aerospace, engineering, food processing, transportation and real estate. Russian and foreign individuals also rely on our team to protect their interests globally”.
Many of these Russian firms are targets of Western sanctions.
The Legal 500 identifies some of Squire Patton Boggs’ other Russian clients. These include sanctioned firms closely linked to Putin – the state-controlled giants Sberbank and VTB Bank.
As openDemocracy has reported, a senior official at VTB Bank has given £44,000 to the Conservative Party since 2018.
The Defence Secretary’s links to the law firm of VTB Bank raises further questions about the UK Government’s decision to grant it a 30-day reprieve from purported sanctions.
Squire Patton Boggs did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.
The Trump-Russia connection
Squire Patton Boggs also had links to the Trump-Russia affair.
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen – convicted of tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations in 2018 – had previously operated a strategic partnership with Squire Patton Boggs.
From 2015 to 2016 – the same period in which the law firm was lobbying on behalf of Gazprombank – Cohen was working with Trump associate Felix Sater to secure a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Gazprombank was reportedly a proposed financier for the project, along with another Russian Government-controlled bank, Sberbank.
After Trump took office, Cohen and Sater proposed a Ukraine ‘peace plan’ in which sanctions would be lifted in exchange for a withdrawal of pro-Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum on Crimea. The plan was handed to Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn, who later resigned after revelations that he had lied about discussing the sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, then Russian Ambassador to the US.
Gazprombank is currently being targeted by US and British sanctions in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
More Conservative Links
The funding received by Ben Wallace raises urgent questions, given the Foreign Secretary’s recent comments blaming “London law firms” for delaying Government efforts to implement sanctions against Russian oligarchs.
Just a year after receiving the donation from Squire Patton Boggs, Wallace would go on to become Home Office Security Minister – a post he occupied at the time of Russia’s Salisbury poisonings in 2018. A year later, he reprised his position as Defence Secretary. More recently, Wallace appeared to downplay the danger from Putin’s nuclear threat against the West.
Although Wallace only registered a single £10,000 donation from the firm, his Conservative colleague Jake Berry has received funding from Squire Patton Boggs for many years for consulting work, according to the parliamentary register of interests. Berry is currently Squire Patton Boggs’ senior advisor on its European public policy practice.
Since September 2020, Berry has been paid a monthly fee of £3,500 “until further notice” to provide the firm with “strategic corporate advice”.
Prior to this, Berry received regular monthly payments ranging between £1,250 and £2,500 from the law firm between May 2014 and July 2017 – the same time period in which the law firm was paid to lobby on behalf of Gazprombank.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Nigel Adams – who also received funding from Squire Patton Boggs – has other known Russia ties.
He received a total of £33,800 in donations from Russian energy tycoon Alexander Temerko, who previously worked closely with the Kremlin and Russian Defence Ministry, and reportedly maintained long-standing ties with Russian security agencies.
In 2019, Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr revealed that Squire Patton Boggs provided legal representation to Cambridge Analytica and Goddard Gunster, which were both involved in data campaigns promoting the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign.
The Cabinet Office and the Foreign Office refused to comment.