Sanctioned Russian bank hires new US lawyer in Jewish texts case

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A view shows the logo of state development corporation VEB.RF at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 5, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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  • Connecticut-based Wesley Whitmyer seeks to represent Russian state development bank VEB
  • International law firm Freshfields wants out of the case

(Reuters) – As a major international law firm seeks to drop Russian development bank VEB as a client due to Ukraine’s invasion, the sanctioned state lender has turned to a lesser lawyer known from Connecticut in a US court battle over religious documents.

Lawyers from the law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have been defending VEB since 2020 in the Washington, DC lawsuit. The case was brought by an American Jewish organization to enforce a $150 million judgment against Russia for its failure to return Jewish letters and texts that ended up in the country after World War II.

On Thursday, Freshfields told U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth that attorney Wesley Whitmyer of the Stamford, Connecticut-based Whitmyer Group was seeking to take over as VEB’s attorney.

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Lamberth ruled Friday that Whitmyer, who is not licensed to practice in DC court, cannot take over without first going through the usual process for attorneys seeking special permission to represent clients there.

Whitmyer and a lawyer for Freshfields did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Freshfields is one of several international law firms that cut ties with some Russian clients after the invasion of Ukraine in February. The company said it would no longer work for entities linked to the Russian state.

VEB had asked the court to admit Whitmyer quickly to respond to a recently filed motion by attorneys for Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the United States, the group seeking the return of the Jewish texts. The $150 million judgment stems from a $50,000 daily fine Lamberth imposed in 2013 for Russia’s failure to hand over the documents.

Russia initially participated in the litigation, but later withdrew. VEB sought to quash a subpoena requesting information about its assets, arguing that it could not be considered a replacement for Russia, but Lamberth rejected that effort.

Whitmyer’s law firm website says it handles international cases involving intellectual property, technology, and commerce, as well as mediations, arbitrations, and litigation in federal district and appellate courts.

Its customers have included Oracle Corp, Kmart Corp and German medical device company Karl Storz, according to court records.

If admitted, Whitmyer will face the Chabad organization’s attempt to seize VEB’s assets that were frozen by US sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine. The group also wants a judicial lien placed on all assets VEB owns in the United States so that they can be seized in the future.

Steven Lieberman, a lawyer for Chabad, told Reuters that they “don’t really care who represents VEB,” and that their focus now is on seizing Russian assets that can be used to obtain the Jewish texts.

The case is Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the United States v. Russian Federation, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 05-1548

For plaintiffs: Robert Parker and Steven Lieberman of Rothwell, Figg, Ernst & Manbeck

For VEB.RF: Timothy Harkness and David Livshiz of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

(NOTE: This story has been updated to include a judge’s decision on Friday.)

Read more:

Russian bank loses bid to suspend US case over holy Jewish texts

Global law firm to drop Russian bank client in Jewish scriptures case

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Jacqueline Thomson

Thomson Reuters

Washington, DC-based Jacqueline Thomsen covers legal news related to politics, the courts, and the legal profession. Follow her on Twitter at @jacq_thomsen and email her at [email protected]

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