Mishcon Sued For £2.9M Over ‘Tainted’ Fees In Family Dispute
Law firm Mishcon de Reya is being sued for £2.9m by a property investment company for accepting potentially “tainted” money from a former client as payment for legal fees. The lawsuit is linked to a bitter family dispute involving property executive Edward Wojakovski and the Tonstate Group, which he owned with his former father-in-law.
A group of companies associated with the Tonstate Group, which went into liquidation this month, is suing Mishcon over money Wojakovski used to pay legal bills related to the dispute.
The lawsuit claims the money was wrongfully taken from Tonstate and that therefore Mishcon should not have accepted it. In the details of the claim, filed at the High Court this month, the Tonstate companies cite a 2017 WhatsApp message from Mishcon’s executive chair Kevin Gold to Wojakovski’s ex-wife allegedly referencing a Singapore bank account from which the law firm received payment.
The funds were “potentially tainted but I suspect there is enough around to make sure that everyone is made good”, Gold allegedly said in the message. The Tonstate companies accused Mishcon of making “some belated and halfhearted inquiries of their client, but nevertheless proceeded to receive payment from the Bank of Singapore account without in fact having established the provenance of those funds”, according to the claim.
The dispute between Wojakovski and his ex-wife’s family is over funds they claim he took from Tonstate. High Court rulings show that Wojakovski admitted to extracting money from the group but argued it was with the extended family’s agreement.
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In 2019, he was ordered to repay almost £13m. A freezing order was imposed in 2020 and he was declared bankrupt. Wojakovski’s former father-in-law, Arthur Matyas, also admitted to taking money from the Tonstate companies and agreed to repay the money in 2020.
The claims against Mishcon follow similar allegations made by Tonstate against other firms that have represented Wojakovski. Earlier this year, High Court Justice Antony Zacaroli rejected claims of regulatory failings against law firms Keidan Harrison and Rayden Solicitors. Strict rules govern the way lawyers handle client money to try to prevent money laundering.
The Tonstate lawsuit is the latest instance where Mishcon has been accused of mishandling funds.
In October, the firm was fined £25,000 by the lawyers’ regulator for England and Wales for letting football agent clients channel commission payments through its client bank account. Mishcon said in a statement: “We take our regulatory obligations very seriously. There has been no wrongdoing on our part.
Our full response will be set out in our defence which has not been filed yet.” Shlomo Rechtschaffen, a lawyer for the Tonstate companies who has also represented Matyas, did not respond to a request for comment. Luke Harrison, a lawyer for Wojakovski, said his client was “seriously concerned about the collateral attack on various of his lawyers by Tonstate”.
Harrison noted that Justice Zacaroli had called a similar claim against his own firm “strikingly aggressive”.
“Whilst Mr Wojakovski is subject to a post judgment proprietary freezing order he has concern that it is being used in a manner that in practice prevents him from obtaining legal advice with a view to burying him in technical breaches of court orders and procedural non-compliance,” Harrison said.
“Freezing orders are an important remedy of the English courts but the ability to confidentially obtain legal advice must be preserved if a party to litigation is not being deprived of their Article 6 rights to a fair hearing.”
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