UK lawyer sues Wagner, aiming to win billions for Ukrainians
McCue leads the British law firm McCue Jury & Partners and has been defending the interests of victims of terrorists in court for 30 years. He led cases against the IRA (Irish Republican Army), Al-Qaeda, and Hamas, and appeared in courts around the world - from Britain and the United States to Somalia, Libya and Equatorial Guinea. He has repeatedly sought the withdrawal of sanctioned assets of states in favor of the victims through court verdicts. And now he wants to help the Ukrainians get reparations at the expense of the assets of the Russian invaders - from Yevgeny Prigozhin's mercenaries to dictator Vladimir Putin personally.
In November 2022, McCue initiated the first lawsuit against the Wagner mercenary company. The lawyer enlisted the support of the Ukrainian government and an international network of lawyers, investigators and lobbyists built over decades of professional activity. Together they are trying to establish the process of filing class-action lawsuits against Russia in different countries of the world.
NV met with the lawyer during his latest visit to Kyiv to ask about this large-scale project.
NV: Tell us about your program and the trial against PMC Wagner in London.
McCue: PayBack4Ukraine is a program that involves countries all over the world. We have cases in Israel, in Europe, and in America. In every case, the plaintiffs are ordinary Ukrainian peoples who may have lost a loved one, may have lost their business…by this Russian invasion, and they deserve compensation. They deserve reparations for what’s going on. These cases will create mass class-actions and take Russian assets, sanctioned or unsanctioned, and bring that money home for the people.
The first case is in London, which we’ve set up in London, is against the Wagner Group and Prigozhin. That case is eligible for 180,000 Ukrainian evacuees in London on visa. If they all come into the case, it has a cumulative value of $5 billion. That’s $5 billion we can take off the Russian war machine and bring back to Ukrainians.
NV: How did you calculate this amount?
McCue: Each claim has different values, and you average them out. There’s a whole computer model. There’s displacement, there’s the cost of having to move home and live in a foreign country. You work out that so many have direct injuries like psychological trauma. There’s an algorithm that the lawyers work out. So you come up with the figure from that.
NV: 180 thousand people are eligible, but how many have joined this case?
McCue: We have not asked anyone yet. So far we have a small group of Ukrainians who are our clients. We need the support of the [Ukrainian] government to use the Diya app to onboard all of those 180,000 into this particular case. But then we have similar cases in America where Ukrainian victims will be eligible for that action. And then in Germany, it will be a different group of eligibility criteria. So the only way in the circumstances of this war of doing this will be to utilize the Diya app, which is perfect. So we have been having meetings with the government on how to make that happen and how we can make that work. And they’ve agreed to help, which is fantastic.
NV: Concerning this project with Diya, whom did you meet with in Kyiv this time and what did you discuss about this Diya project?
McCue: I’ve just come from the Office of the President, where there was a roundtable meeting with all the relevant ministries that are involved in supporting this program…That is being orchestrated by [presidential advisor Mykhailo] Podolyak. There is a whole center which will direct action as needed.
In December, your government said that they fully backed and supported this campaign, and working together, we can maximize its impact and potential. The meeting held today was the first of a sort of cross-ministry task force supporting this program and all the different actions around the world. As you can imagine, the British action, which my law firm is bringing, and the different actions being brought by lawyers in the United States and in Israel, will have different evidence needs in order to prosecute their cases, and different Ukrainian victims to represent. That’s why this is so unique and brilliant – because it has never been done on this scale before.
The Ukrainian government confirmed that it fully supports our PayBack4Ukraine campaign, and the first press conference was held. Now, thanks to the Office of the President (OP), the first meeting of an interagency task force has taken place, which will facilitate the work on court cases in different countries. At the round table, we met with representatives of a number of ministries and departments; the coordinator was [adviser to the chairman of the OP] Mikhail Podolyak.
We’ve done actions for the Rohingya against Facebook for billions of dollars. But this stage has millions and millions of Ukrainians, and this process is so valuable because it works in parallel with reparation commissions and justice tribunals. And this is important, because we know from history, from when Saddam [Hussein]’s assets were seized after he was removed–which is not going to happen here–the reparations payments ended up being a paltry few thousand dollars. That’s not going to repair Ukraine.
These cases that we’re talking about around the world are for real, actual losses. What’s hard is that they took a lot of work and effort. We’ve got to prosecute all those claims and put them together in class actions, but each damages claim has to be worked out individually. But working with your government, we are able to fast track these processes and make something that would have been practically just too difficult actually happen.
NV: So what is the mechanism by which this will work? Will Ukrainians be able to submit their claim through Diya?
McCue: Let’s take the UK action. The UK action will make a post on Diya which will say, “If you have A, B, and C criteria and want to be in the action, tick this box, and with your permission, we will provide the lawyers with your contact details or whatever documents. We have to do due diligence so they can decide whether to proceed, and then they would be processed into the case that way.
We have agreed upon how to do it. What’s necessary now is procedures for compliance under Ukrainian law. You have a system which always requires orders to be made for something to happen.
But given that, we've been working on this for the last year pro bono. But when you start an action, those cases need funding. You can’t take on the Russian war machine if you have one hand behind your back and have no resources. So we have to raise money, which lawyers, experts, and investigators all need. The network we’ve built for the Ukrainian lawfare program is made honestly of the best lawyers and investigators around the world. And they’ve all agreed that when the cases start, they will work at a 20% discount for Ukraine. So we’ve got to raise this money we need now so that all the actions can start building up. That’s where we’re at.
We’re looking at funding from some private donors, but mostly it’s going to be crowdfunding from the public, and that’s what we talked about with the Office of the President.
NV: From your experience going after organizations like ISIS and the IRA, how does this case against Wagner compare?
McCue: The Wagner case is very easy in a way. I’ve sued terrorist groups all over the world. These are organizations that do not have a corporate structure. Wagner is exactly the same. You’re dealing with groups that commit atrocities and criminality with a political motive. Wagner does the same. They are a terrorist group. So for our modeling on how to build the cases, this is easy. What Wagner has done in your country is disgusting. They have met the definition of a terrorist group in every country. All that countries have to do now is wake up, smell the coffee, and start designating Wagner as a terrorist group.
It’s not just Wagner. We’re also going to target the oligarchs that prop up Mr. Putin. We’re also going to target the sanction-busters and those involved in the illegal arms and propaganda trade. This is what this program is going to do with your government’s help, by and on behalf of the people of Ukraine.
NV: What charges are being brought against the Wagner Group in the London court?
McCue: There are three things we are going to show. We are going to show that Wagner is a terrorist organization and has committed acts of terrorism against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. We will then show that Wagner was involved in an illegal conspiracy with the Russian Federation, namely Putin, to commit those acts of terrorism. Thirdly, we will show that Putin paid for these acts of terrorism. That is a case that I can guarantee you we are not going to lose. We have seen the evidence, and we have seen what those monsters have done. They’ve bragged about it. And under international law, we will win. We will get a judgment, and then we will enforce it, and we will pursue them for their assets, whether they are sanctioned assets or non-sanctioned assets. And they will go to Ukrainians who deserve it.
NV: If the London court rules against the Wagner Group, which assets will you target and in which countries?
McCue: We are not just going after Wagner. That’s just the first London case. But with Wagner, we’ve been monitoring them for nearly a decade. There are people in our network like Bellingcat, who have been monitoring and tracking Wagner assets for a long time. These sorts of investigators are providing us on the legal team with information on where the assets are, in whose name they’re registered, and where the contracts are. We have that, and we’re going to use it and track them.
More importantly, when you win a judgment in a terrorism case or a case involving human rights in a military conflict – a case that is humanitarian in nature – we will have an international precedent for applying a verdict against sanctioned assets. The beauty of it is that this is a method that is already compliant with international law and has lots of precedent, which we’ve already done, where you can get a judgment against a state from a competent court, and use these exemptions to take the money..
For all this talk of getting reparations from sanctioned money, that won’t necessarily happen because it’s in breach of international law. Countries may say that “of course Ukraine deserves this,” but it’s very tricky to just wave a magic wand and confiscate those sanctioned assets. But these lawfare cases, which are particularly crafted with this humanitarian angle, will be able to do this.
NV: You’ve said you’ve gotten seizures of assets in other cases. Can you give some examples?
McCue: One example comes from the victims of [Libyan dictator Muammar] Gaddafi’s Semtex [plastic explosives] that he provided to the IRA terrorist group. That was used for what would become the model of what became the Libyan Claims Settlement Act in America. Sanctioned money was used to pay those victims, which in those US cases got $10 million each. We were involved in that. The French government took Gaddafi’s frozen European assets for his Semtex being used on an airplane which blew up in midair. They brought that case, and used that exemption and did it. Then again for the victims of the Lockerbie bombings – 10 million per family was taken out of sanctioned assets. This is a well-tried practice in law, and we felt that it needed to be done for Ukrainians. I think that’s why the government approached us. It’s quite a specialized area of practice.
NV: I wanted to ask about lawsuits against Putin and Russian oligarchs. Are you planning to bring them?
McCue: Yes. There are law firms which are part of the network who have come to me about cases against Putin personally and against so many other oligarchs. We are going through them and figuring out how to prioritize them. At the moment, we have no resources. We’ve got the people ready. They contact us from around the world. People are coming to us who have spent their lives doing things like hunting down assets and going after terrorist groups, and this is a great thing for the Ukrainian people to have. Because you can’t pull this sort of thing off without a huge network of people working on it who can offer expertise from all sorts of countries and jurisdictions from around the world.
In addition to the Wagner Group, our targets will also be oligarchs obedient to Putin and violators of sanctions, Russian sympathizers involved in the illegal arms trade and distributors of illegal propaganda. All these court cases will be launched with the help of your government on behalf of the Ukrainians. The more of them, the better, because this is the power of people.
Our team consists of lawyers and investigators with experience in tracking down large corporate assets, there are thousands of them, and they constantly contact me with new ideas for what reasons and for what amount we can file claims. Now the difficulty for me is to prioritize them and find resources. But it is very important that we have a huge potential of a network of specialists - without it it is impossible to do a business of this magnitude for Ukraine.
NV: I know you've reached out to YouTube about content related to Wagner. Can you tell us more about that?
McCue: One of the objectives of this program is to hit the Russian war machine with litigation, stop it from being able to function, and bring that money to Ukraianians as reparations. That means going after Russian war machine propaganda. I don’t think it is civilized for any multimedia platform to host commercial promotional videos of Wagner to show off its murderous terrorism, to recruit, and to promote its image around the world.
So when The Times published an article about these videos Wagner is posting on YouTube, we wrote a letter to YouTube demanding that all of that content be monitored and taken down, or else we would be looking at legal action. It cannot happen in a civilized society that people are showing videos like this which, by the way, are advancing their commercial interests. It’s promoting a commercial enterprise of illegality, and I don’t think YouTube wants to do that. I don’t think any good social media platform wants to allow them to peddle their propaganda and terrorism. So I’m sure that they’ll rectify it, and it will be a small victory for our campaign.
NV: How much time did you give YouTube to respond and how will you proceed?
McCue: I was very generous and gave them 24 hours to take the videos down and seven days to respond. Why should a Ukrainian whose child was killed by Wagner have to know that on Youtube, where they watch their TV programs, that there’s a rap song about these guys killing Ukrainians?
NV: What will happen if they do not comply?
McCue: If any internet platform around the world acts illegally by publishing this propaganda and terrorism, and there is a case to be made, we will bring legal action on behalf of the Ukrainian people and take huge damages from them. If they think I’m joking, they can look at how we did the Cambridge Analytica case against Facebook. These big companies have to understand that there is a social responsibility in being a social networking platform. No Ukrainian and no child anywhere should have to see videos of these guys smashing people’s heads in with hammers. It’s wrong, they know it’s wrong, and it should stop.
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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine