Debevoise Advises Former Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, in High Court Win

22 September 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has represented Petro Poroshenko, the fifth President of Ukraine, in his victory in the High Court of England & Wales.

Mr. Poroshenko successfully challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear a $250+ million conspiracy claim brought against him and the former head of the National Bank of Ukraine (Valeria Gontareva) by the Ukrainian oligarch Igor Surkis and several English limited liability partnerships controlled by Mr Surkis and members of Mr Surkis’s family (the “Surkis Family Companies”).

The case concerned allegations Mr. Poroshenko had conspired with the head of the National Bank of Ukraine (Valeria Gontareva) to unlawfully cause money that the Surkis Family Companies had deposited with Ukraine’s largest bank (PrivatBank) to be used to help recapitalize the bank.

The events allegedly took place as part of the nationalization and bail-in of PrivatBank, which was conducted by the Ukrainian government following the financial collapse of PrivatBank and the discovery that its owners had apparently misappropriated several billions dollars from the bank. The claimants alleged that Mr. Poroshenko and Ms. Gontareva did this for improper personal gain. Mr. Poroshenko and Ms. Gontareva denied all allegations of having acting improperly while responding to a significant banking crisis in Ukraine.

Mr. Poroshenko challenged the jurisdiction of the England courts to hear the claims and Ms. Gontareva applied for strike-out and reverse summary judgment.

Following a two day hearing, at which Debevoise partner, Lord Goldsmith QC, argued the case on behalf of Mr. Poroshenko, Mr. Justice Calver dismissed the claim and held that the claims could not proceed in the English courts as Mr. Poroshenko and Mrs. Gontareva were protected by state immunity, and the act of state doctrine prevented the English courts from considering the claimants’ allegations regarding the lawfulness of actions taken by the Ukrainian government. The Judge also granted Ms. Gontareva’s application for reverse summary judgment.

A full copy of the decision can be found here.

The Debevoise team advising Mr. Poroshenko was led by partner Christopher Boyne, with partner Lord Goldsmith QC appearing as lead advocate at the hearing along with Professor Philippa Webb of Twenty Essex Street Chambers. The team included associates Sara Ewad, Hugo Farmer, and Monika Hlavkova.