Camerons offloads its Central Asia lawyers

Dentons hires controversial team to boost Tashkent and Almaty; Camerons keeps Moscow office

CMS Cameron McKenna is transferring its entire Central Asian operations in Tashkent and Almaty to Denton Wilde Sapte.

The 11-lawyer team, including the head of the CIS practice at Camerons Elena Kirillova, will move on 1 November. The move comes after a decision by Camerons earlier this year to close its Central Asian offices, which have over the past couple of years been plagued by controversy.

Camerons chief executive Robert Derry-Evans says: “We realised we could only expand in the Central Asian republics by redeploying partner resources, and that we’d be better off deploying them in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Denton Wilde international managing partner David Moroney says he approached Kirillova independently in April this year. “We’re trying to adopt a policy around the world,” he says. “This means strengthening the offices we’ve got, and the first place we looked at was the CIS. I approached Elena – Camerons didn’t approach us.”

Camerons’ Central Asian practice has been dogged by bad publicity over the last year and has been embroiled in a series of harassment and victimisation allegations which came to light in June last year.

Kirillova says: “There are two claims currently in front of the court, and there’s been an application to strike them out. Camerons is absolutely determined to continue to defend that, which is great.”

Derry-Evans adds: “We’re continuing to resist and defend the claims vigorously.” But he dismisses any suggestion that Camerons’ decision to close the offices was because of the allegations. “It’s genuinely not related to the claims at all, as the chronology will show. We started reviewing the Central Asian offices back in late 1997,” he says.

The acquisition now makes Denton Wilde the largest international law firm in Central Asia with 21 lawyers. The firm set up there in 1999, taking over the local practice of Denver-based Welbourne Sullivan Meck & Tooley. The Almaty and Tashkent practice will be headed by Denton Wilde partner Marla Valdez. Kirillova will be based in the firm’s London office with the remit of developing business for Denton Wilde’s CIS practice as a whole.

Moroney at Denton Wilde says the financial prospects of the Central Asian operation are strong. “You can make shedloads of money. The fees aren’t bad if you’re selling expertise. There’s a nice living to be made out there.”

The Denton Wilde CIS group is thought to turn over around £1.7m annually, and acts for clients such as Gazprom. The former CIS group at Camerons – with clients such as BAT, SmithKline Beecham and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development – turned over £2.85m last year, but that includes £1.2m for the Moscow office, which will be integrated into Camerons’ Central European practice.

Meanwhile, Denton Wilde is set to invest further in the region. Moroney says: “You’ve got to resource up or not bother. There isn’t any point being somewhere with a couple of people – it isn’t worth the management time.”