Paul Baxendale-Walker, name partner in London, Nottingham and Glasgow firm Baxendale-Walker, is facing criminal trial over an alleged £2m serious fraud committed in 1994.
City firm Russell Jones & Walker is also a defendant in a separate, but related, £4m civil claim to be heard later this month. Baxendale-Walker, a specialist tax lawyer, was indicted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in June last year. Pre-trial hearings at Southwark Crown Court are scheduled for February and March this year, with the trial due to start in April. The SFO estimates that the proceedings will last about four months. The charges are against Baxendale-Walker, not the firm that bears his name. Baxendale-Walker is still practising, although - as is standard Law Society practice - he has been forbidden to act as a company director while the proceedings are current. Also indicted is businessman Bjørn Stiedl. The pair are charged with defrauding a pension fund, the Clarion Group Retirement and Dependants Benefit Scheme, of £2.135m. Stiedl is the former head of a company named Crisum Group, which bought a share of the company Balfron, which in turn owned the Clarion scheme. In May 1994, Crisum instructed Baxendale-Walker, who was then a solicitor at Forsyte Kerman, to advise it on the restructuring of the Clarion scheme. The SFO is charging Baxendale-Walker and Stiedl with transferring the fund to various bodies, none of which were lawful beneficiaries of the pension scheme, including the Baxendale-Walker office account. Neither Forsyte Kerman nor Baxendale-Walker's present firm is implicated, and both Baxendale-Walker and Stiedl deny the charges against them. On 14 January, Russell Jones will be appearing as one of the defendants in a £4m civil compensation claim brought by the trustee of the Clarion pension scheme. Russell Jones is one of nine defendants claimed to have played a part in misappropriation of pension scheme funds, but it is not implicated in the SFO investigations. The firm is a defendant because it employed a solicitor who, while drafting the Belfron purchasing document, is alleged to have assisted the breaches of trust made by Baxendale-Walker and Stiedl. In July last year, Russell Jones tried, but failed, to strike out the claims of vicarious liability against it, or to get a summary judgment in its favour. Richard Stanton-Reid is the eighth defendant in the compensation claim. It is understood that he was employed as a consultant at Russell Jones in the early 1990s. A spokesperson for Russell Jones confirmed in a statement: "We are involved in the civil claim that is being heard on 14 January this year. It arises out of actions taken in the mid-1990s. A claim was subsequently brought against the firm at a very late stage by the trustee. Russell Jones & Walker has never been involved in the SFO proceedings." Russell Jones and Stanton-Reid are vigorously defending the claim against them.