Clifford Chance is set to expel a partner for the first time in its history following an acrimonious dispute after his suspension last year.
Former Bangkok managing partner Wirot Poonsuwan has claimed a £30m payoff and has launched a criminal prosecution against partner Tim Jeffares in Bangkok for alleged defamation.
The first stage of the defamation action against Jeffares is set to be heard later this month. Both he and Clifford Chance are thought to have retained local counsel. Jeffares declined to comment on the matter.
Poonsuwan was suspended in August last year on full pay after concerns about his contribution to the firm. Poonsuwan is understood to have made a series of allegations, including race discrim-ination, tax fraud and time-sheet padding. He has also described the firm as “imperialist” and has demanded armed protection after claiming that Clifford Chance was sending “gangsters” to his house. Clifford Chance partners were briefed last week on the dispute.
A Clifford Chance source said: “We've done our own investigations and we're satisfied that there's no substance to what Wirot has said. We firmly reject the allegations.” The source added that the so-called “gangsters” were in fact motorcycle couriers.
Discussions about Poonsuwan's contribution to the firm first began in 2001, but came to a head in the middle of last year. One Clifford Chance source claimed that Poonsuwan had not been keeping normal working hours, preferring instead to spend time in the gym in the mornings, and that he consistently refused to meet with the firm's management.
Managing partner Peter Cornell is now understood to have served notice on Poonsuwan, seeking his expulsion. Poonsuwan may then put his case to the partnership council, which is due to meet at the end of the month. The partnership council will then decide whether the firm should hold a partner vote to expel him.
Poonsuwan joined Clifford Chance in 1999 when his firm, Wirot International, merged with Clifford Chance's Bangkok office.
Executive partner Chris Perrin told The Lawyer: “This is a very sad situation, and one which the firm has tried hard to resolve. Wirot's actions are unacceptable and incompatible with partnership.
“Although Wirot himself doesn't want to remain a partner, it seems that expulsion is the only way to enable us to go our separate ways.
“It's obviously a sensitive issue and one on which I would prefer not to comment any further.”
Poonsuwan could not be reached for comment.