New York firm Chadbourne Park's aspirations to set up a major project finance division in its London office have taken a hammering with the defection of two UK-based project finance lawyers to competitor Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

Having been held to their contractual notice period, project finance associates Andrew Thomas and Elish Flax are to join Akin Gump next month.

The firm has also hired well-regarded Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom project lawyer Kaamil Ansar, who joins as a partner. Thomas joins as counsel while Flax joins as an associate.

Akin Gump's project finance team has grown to three partners and five associates since April.

Flax leaves Chadbournes after only six months with the firm. The defections leave the its London office with three assistant solicitors one in banking and two in litigation.

Last December it lost project finance partner and ex-Ashurst Morris Crisp lawyer Martyn Stewart Smith to Cameron McKenna after only three months at the firm.

This is not the first time Akin Gump has recruited from Chadbournes. The head of its Moscow office, Robert Langer, defected last year.

Chadbournes hit the headlines when it advertised two years ago for three project finance lawyers at a record salary of £700,000. But it has had little luck in building up a permanent London project finance team.

Meanwhile, Chadbournes partner Ian Johnson, the first partner to join after the £700,000 advert, has been pulled back to London from the Singapore office which he headed. The firm's spokesman, Jerome Katz, said Johnson would be 'spending much more time there. He's there until we decide for the longer term who will be in charge.'

Katz denied that the office may close, saying that the firm was 'totally committed to the London office', while conceding that 'it has certainly had some setbacks'.

He added that the firm would be moving into new offices in the city this month.

The latest appointments are part of Akin Gump's move to boost its fast growing London project finance team which, according to Ansar, will shortly recruit other lawyers. Ansar was until recently working on two major projects in India and it is understood that he will continue working on these projects at Akin Gump.

Thomas and Flax are currently in negotiations over what work they will bring from Chadbournes.