Lovells powerless over unpaid £1m

City firm faces massive fee shortfall as client assets are frozen in court battle

Lovells is on tenterhooks over the payment of £911,000 owed to it by England's foremost antiquities seller, whose assets have been frozen.
The firm is awaiting the outcome of a court hearing on 15 April, when it will hear whether Robin Symes Ltd (RSL) and its owner Robin Symes will be able to issue funds to Lovells and Citibank.
On 27 March, Mr Justice Hart approved an application by RSL for sales of antiquities believed to be worth $3.8m (£2.6m) to proceed. RSL is understood to have obtained buyers for these items. However, the 15 April hearing, to be attended by all interested parties, will determine where the sale proceeds should go.
The freezing injunction was served against RSL after the unexpected death in 1999 of Christo Michailidis, who administrator PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) cla-imed had been a key partner in the company. It argued at interlocutory hearings that members of Michailidis's family were therefore owed part of the proceeds of RSL's sales. The freezing order was made subject to the full trial on this issue.
A further £348,500 is owed by RSL and Symes to law firms and counsel in Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Switzerland. Fees are also owed to a firm that acted for RSL prior to Lovells.
Lovells acted for RSL last year in relation to the injunction and related matters, but came off record in January this year and was replaced by Peters & Peters. Its lawyers are being paid by a benefactor not directly connected with RSL.
Peters & Peters partner Keith Oliver said Citibank, which is owed $2m (£1.4m), has not started proceedings against RSL.
Oliver said: “We're doing all we can within the context of the existing interlocutory regime… to put in place mechanisms that will bring about the ongoing sale of antiquities sufficient to discharge the indebtedness to Lovells, either on an agreed basis or as ordered.”
Oliver is considering issuing an application to strike out the injunction against RSL on the grounds of insufficient evidence and lack of merit. He said the claimants proceedings are “without foundation and will continue to be strenuously resisted”.