KIEV, July 19 – A leading Russian law firm thought to be associated with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced its merger Tuesday with a major Ukrainian company, creating the largest law firm in the former Soviet Union.
Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners of Russia has announced its merger with Magisters, the law firm that had once advised then-Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on natural gas contacts with Russia.
“This merger is unprecedented for our market,” Dmitry Afanasiev, the chairman of Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, said in a statement. “We are a step ahead of any national or international law firm in size, market penetration and regional coverage in Russia and the CIS.”
The surprise merger comes at a time when Tymoshenko has been facing a major legal challenge during a trial for allegedly exceeding authority while negotiating the Russia gas agreement in January 2009.
Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s top lawyer and part of her legal defense team, was a partner at Magisters in 2006 through the end of 2008.
Yevhen Korniychuk, the first deputy justice minister in the Tymoshenko government, was also a partner at Magisters.
Magisters for years was an appointed legal advisor helping Naftogaz Ukrayiny, the national oil and gas company, handle international agreements.
The firm lost its lucrative contract with Naftogaz immediately after the Tymoshenko government had been toppled in March 2010. Shortly afterwards, the law firm’s offices were raided by prosecutors seeking documents relating to the operations of Naftogaz.
“We are determined to bring new value to our clients through this merger,” Afanasiev said. “And last but not the least, the new partners do like each other and we intend to enjoy working together.”
Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners, or EPA&P, is the largest and perhaps the most powerful legal company in Russia with many attributing her power to alleged connections with Putin.
Nikolai Egorov, the founding partner of EPA&P, is thought to be a friend and a classmate of Putin back from the time they had studied together at a law school in St. Petersburg.
The close connections between EPA&P and the Russian government were underscored in specific assignments performed by the law firm. For example, EPA&P defended two Russian spies arrested on charges of assassinating Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in Qatar in February 2004.
The merger comes amid speculations that the Tymoshenko trial may shed light on alleged role of Putin during his negotiations with Tymoshenko ahead of the controversial gas agreement.
Prosecutors accuse Tymoshenko of exceeding her authority while negotiating and signing the gas agreement that had set Russian gas prices for Ukraine at a level higher than on average in Europe.
The 10-year gas agreement also re-shaped the system of natural gas supplies to Ukraine.
As part of the agreement, Russia agreed to eliminate RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered natural gas trader co-owned by Gazprom and by Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash, a Tymoshenko foe.
RosUkrEnergo was replaced with Gazprom, which had become the only gas supplier to Ukraine.
Firtash is thought to be one of the key financial sponsors of President Viktor Yanukovych and is thought to have significant clout in the current government.
Vlasenko, asked on Tuesday whether Tymoshenko planned to summon Putin and Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to the court in Ukraine to testify, said this was unlikely.
“Most likely there will be no reason to talk about the witnesses you have mentioned,” Vlasenko said at a press conference responding to a question from reporter.
EPA&P, which has 220 lawyers and 16 partners, was reported to gave revenue 97.2 million euros, or $137.8 million, in 2010, according to The Lawyer European 100.
Magisters, which has about 100 lawyers and 11 partners across the CIS, was reported to have revenue at $26 million.
The new firm will have more than 300 lawyers and 27 partners in servicing clients through offices in Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev, Minsk, Astana and associate offices in London and Washington, D.C. (tl/ez)