Paul Manafort. Photo: Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock.com

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s controversial work for the former government of Ukraine is part of an investigation by the Justice Department, which is asking the firm to produce documents on its work, according to a report by The New York Times on Thursday.

Skadden’s work was already under public scrutiny from several media reports in the last year. Skadden was paid more than $1 million in legal fees after putting together a December 2012 report that critics said effectively justified the jailing of a Ukrainian political rival, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, according to media reports.

The Skadden report found that while some of the charges against Tymoshenko were procedurally flawed, there was no political motivation behind her seven-year prison sentence.

According to Thursday’s newspaper report, Paul Manafort, former Donald Trump campaign chairman, arranged for Skadden to draft the report. Meanwhile, Manafort, his work for the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his payments for the work have been points of interest in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller III, who is probing Russian interference in last year’s presidential election and any possible connections to Trump’s campaign.

The Times said it’s unclear whether the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to Skadden is part of Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation. The report does not say what documents and information the Justice Department is asking from Skadden. 

“We have been and will continue cooperating with appropriate requests,” a Skadden spokeswoman said Thursday to ALM.

The American Lawyer previously outlined Skadden’s work on the report and the firm’s ties to Manafort, noting his daughter, Andrea Manafort Shand, is a former associate at Skadden in Washington, D.C. The Times said Skadden’s report was one part of Manafort’s strategy to shield Yanukovych from international condemnation, as he also recruited lobbyists and consultants.

According to the Times report, under the country’s current government, prosecutors there have opened an investigation on Yanukovych and have requested that the Justice Department question Manafort and Skadden’s lead lawyer on the case, Gregory B. Craig, who had served as President Barack Obama’s White House counsel.

In a statement, Skadden said it was retained by Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice as an independent consultant on the rule of law, to write a report about whether the prosecution, trial, conviction and sentencing of Tymoshenko applied Western standards of due process.

As it has before, Skadden defended its report, saying it concluded that Tymoshenko was denied basic rights under Western legal standards and that, in the West she would receive a new trial. “As stated in the report, ‘we do not opine about whether the prosecution was politically motivated or driven by an improper political objective.’”

The Times story Thursday said Skadden has refunded $567,000 to the Ukrainian government—about half of the total it was said to have been paid by Yanukovych’s government—and the firm suggested in a statement that it returned the cash because the money had been placed in escrow for future work that never took place
 
As the newspaper noted, Skadden’s position highlights risks for law firms that handle work for authoritarian governments—lucrative engagements for several Am Law 200 firms, whether it’s in lobbying, regulatory, transactional or arbitration matters.

Wiley Rein strategic counsel Jim Slattery, who was hired by Tymoshenko to help advocate for her release from prison, has strongly criticized Skadden’s report.

“Lawyers get somewhat defined by their clients,” Slattery said, adding he knows Skadden to have highly educated and talented lawyers. “I think if truth be known probably the people of Skadden regret deeply that they got involved in all of this.”