Solicitor accused ‘Zionist firm’ Mishcon de Reya of criminal activity, tribunal hears

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Solicitor accused ‘Zionist firm’ Mishcon de Reya of criminal activity, tribunal hears

Shamima Begum’s former lawyer Tasnime Akunjee alleged to have made false and untrue statements about the City law firm in ‘antisemitic’ broadcast on PressTV

Tasnime Akerjee on the PressTV programme Palestine Declassified that led to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing
Tasnime Akerjee on the PressTV programme Palestine Declassified that led to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing

A professional disciplinary hearing has opened in London into the behaviour of a solicitor accused of making false and inaccurate statements about Mishcon de Reya in a TV programme titled Mishcon de Reya – Zionist Law Firm.

Tasnime Akunjee is accused by the Solicitors Regulation Authority of implying that the firm had been guilty of criminal activity when it was fined by the SRA for breaking money laundering rules.

Though the firm was fined a record sum in 2021 for the breaches, they were a regulatory matter and not a criminal one, the SRA explained at the hearing.

In the episode broadcast as part of the Iranian broadcaster PressTV’s series Palestine Declassified, Akunjee was interviewed by the former Labour MP Chris Williamson about Mishcon’s work in Israel and in UK politics. A pre-recorded clip shown in the programme calls the firm “deeply bonded to Israel at every level of the company”, concluding: “Watch out, [the firm] could have you on their hit list.”

The SRA alleged on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that the broadcast was part of a wider attack on Mishcon and on individuals in the firm, and that Akunjee’s participation called into question his fitness to practise as a solicitor.

It says that, as an aggravating factor, the episode, broadcast in September 2022 and still available online, was antisemitic and could not be described as credible investigative journalism. The regulator said the programme perpetuates antisemitic conspiracy theories, including the trope of Jews controlling the government.

Giving evidence at the hearing, Akunjee, best known as a former lawyer for the so-called Isis Bride Shamima Begum, said he had not realised until after having arrived at the PressTV studio exactly what the broadcast’s title was or what it was going to be about. He said mistakes he made when being interviewed were due to the fact that he had not adequately researched or prepared for the topic.

Tasnime Akunjee and former academic David Miller are interviewed by former Labour MP Chris Williamson

The SRA says the reality of what the broadcast was to be about “must have been obvious” to him from its title and from the clips played and yet he continued to participate. It said he should not have done this, “especially given that he presented as a solicitor, somebody with expertise and knowledge to talk about such matters”. It adds that, although Akunjee says that after the broadcast was over he felt uneasy about it, he failed to raise concerns with those responsible or try to dissociate himself from the broadcast until the SRA brought the concerns to his attention.

Under cross-examination by Louise Culleton for the SRA, he was asked at length about when exactly he became aware of the title of the show, Mishcon de Reya – Zionist Law Firm. By asserting at the hearing that he had not been aware of the title until it “flashed up on the screen” as part of a pre-recorded clip he was changing his story from that given in his previous written responses to the SRA, Culleton suggested.

A second false statement that Akunjee is accused of making is that Mishcon represented the former Chilean dictator General Pinochet, as part of his suggestion of conflict of interest and impropriety in relation to the firm’s role in training magistrates. That statement was untrue and misleading, the SRA said.

Under examination by David Gottlieb, of Thomas More Chambers, Akunjee said he was asked to take part in the programme, in which he appeared alongside the former Bristol academic David Miller, only one or two days before it was broadcast. He was taking the place of the British rapper Lowkey, who was unable to appear, he said, adding that: “Lowkey is a person I respect.”

Akunjee said he accepted that he had made mistakes during his statements on the broadcast, adding that he had apologised in a podcast for his errors about Pinochet and had offered to publish a written apology.

The respondent added that he had found it “particularly galling” to be accused of antisemitism. He had chosen to undertake some training, in respect of which he was halfway through watching a 50-minute video that explained what constitutes antisemitism.

The hearing continues.

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