Travelling the bumpy road to Tashkent

CMS Cameron McKenna’s Central Asia practice has been bedevilled by controversy in recent times

The news that CMS Cameron McKenna’s Central Asian practice is moving en masse to Denton Wilde Sapte (see p1) may be a relief to Camerons. The CIS group has been a management headache for the firm, with most of its problems centring around senior assistant Ilia Iaroslavski, who headed the Tashkent office.

Iaroslavski was a big biller. With clients such as Lonrho, Newcrest, ICI and the British Embassy, he was highly regarded by colleagues. Until the complaints began.

In January 1998, Veronica Pescud, Iaroslavski’s secretary, complained to the head of the CIS group, Elena Kirillova, about Iaroslavski’s inappropriate behaviour.

Pescud highlighted the details of her complaint in a memo which she sent to director of personnel John Renz and head of the London office Vera Farrants.

On 30 January 1998, Pescud left the firm citing ill-health through stress as the cause. She settled at a tribunal in August that year.

As a result of the claim, Iaroslavski’s promotion to partner level, which had been planned for August that year, was postponed. He was served with a final warning. But a whole series of disturbing claims began to emerge.

In July 1998, Natasha Lobova, an assistant in the CIS group, left the firm. She was claiming not only to have been victim to Iaroslavski’s sexual harassment, but also that she had been bullied by Kirillova.

That same month, a paralegal within the group left the firm suffering from a stress-related illness. She began proceedings, claiming that her illness was the result of mistreatment at the hands of Kirillova and Iaroslavski.

In June 1998, while Lobova’s tribunal claim was being settled, two assistants from the CIS group were laid off. Husband and wife Dmitri Chebotarev and Natasha Thomson claimed unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination respectively.

The firm hired George Staple, former head of the Serious Fraud Office, to examine incidents relating to the claims. At the same time, The Lawyer was doing its own investigations.

The Tashkent State University where Iaroslavski claimed to have received his masters of law, had no record of him ever being a student there. Twice the university investigated the matter, and twice they drew a blank.

Should he turn out not to be qualified, the firm would not be covered in the event of a malpractice suit being brought by any of his clients. This had the potential to prove costly. However, there are no allegations that the work Iaroslavski did was in any way negligent.

In February this year, Iaroslavski resigned, suffering from health problems. Cameron McKenna’s inquiries into Iaroslavski’s conduct goes on. The tribunal brought by Thomson and Chebotarev started in September with Cherie Booth QC representing them, but it was adjourned until November.