Russian bank turns to ex-Shkreli lawyer in US lawsuit over downed airliner

The logo of VTB bank is seen in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

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  • Sanctioned VTB Bank said it planned to hire Marc Agnifilo and Zach Intrater of Brafman & Associates to replace Latham & Watkins
  • Debevoise and White & Case planning to withdraw from representing co-defendant Sberbank

(Reuters) – Sanctioned Russian lender VTB Bank, which is fighting claims in US court that it helped fund the downing of an international passenger plane eight years ago, has reached an agreement to bring on new lawyers after the global law firm representing it bowed out over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

New York-based criminal defense lawyer and ex-federal prosecutor Marc Agnifilo, whose past clients have included former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, convicted NXIVM cult founder Keith Raniere and disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, is poised to take over the case from Latham & Watkins , VTB said in a filing Thursday in Manhattan federal court.

Latham has been defending the Russian bank in the lawsuit stemming from the 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine. VTB and another Russian lender, Sberbank, have disputed claims by the relatives of an American killed in the attack that they funneled money to Russian separatists who allegedly shot down the plane.

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US law firms Debevoise & Plimpton and White & Case, which represent Sberbank in the lawsuit, said in court papers Thursday that they would also officially be withdrawing. They did not say which firms will be taking over for them but said the new lawyers would formally seek to enter the case later this month. A Debevoise spokesperson said the firm did not have any comments. A White & Case attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

VTB told the court Thursday that issues stemming from the sanctions regime against Russia had complicated efforts to complete hiring replacements for Latham & Watkins by a June 2 deadline but that it had an “agreement-in-principle” to retain Agnifilo and another attorney, Zach Intraters.

Agnifilo and Intrater, both with Manhattan’s Brafman & Associates, did not respond to requests for comment.

VTB asked the court for an additional two weeks for the new counsel to formally enter the case. A magistrate judge on Friday granted the request but warned that he will not grant future extensions without a sworn statement detailing efforts to hire a new attorney.

Several major law firms have cut ties with Russian entities sanctioned over the war in Ukraine, which reached its 100th day on Friday.

Agnifilo’s former client Shkreli was released from prison to a halfway house last month following his conviction for defrauding investors. Raniere, the founder of the cult-like group NXIVM was sentenced to 120 years in prison in 2020 after being convicted of sex trafficking and other crimes. Agnifilo was also on the legal team defending Weinstein, but the firm withdrew from that case ahead of the former producer’s trial on rape charges.

Veteran defense attorney Ben Brafman, founder of Brafman & Associates, was lead counsel in both the Shkreli and Weinstein cases.

Intrater joined the Brafman firm in 2020, according to his LinkedIn page, after 11 years as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey. Both Intrater and Agnifilo were on the defense team for former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng, who was convicted in August on corruption charges tied to his role in helping loot hundreds of millions of dollars from Malaysia’s 1MDB development fund.

Read more:

Russian bank faces US court default if it can’t find new law firm

Law firm defending Russia’s VTB Bank asks to exit US case over downed flight

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