The Deputy PM's wife, Dechert, the EU and 'conflicts of interest'

The US legal firm and their clients have a lot to gain from their new senior appointee
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The Independent Online

The recruitment of Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, as head of EU affairs at a firm of American lawyers could embarrass the Lib Dem leader as much as it presents conflicts of interest for her, say critics.

Ms Gonzalez has resigned as head of trade and government relations at lawyers DLA Piper to head Dechert's EU trade and EU government affairs practice.

Eurosceptic political rivals to the Deputy Prime Minister say conflicts could arise from Mr Clegg's government work and his wife's new role. But he may also find her new firm's clients test his liberal credentials.

Dechert acts for Lehman Brothers' independent directors and this month persuaded US courts to dismiss a class action against them over the bank's collapse. Last month it represented Google in which a class action by customers was dismissed. The firm is also involved in corporate deals, including this summer's £120m takeover of the Moonpig greeting cards company by PhotoBox; it is currently advising MWB. In the Bernard Madoff scandal, it acted for Ezra Merkin, an associate of the US financier behind the $65bn Ponzi scheme who was charged with civil fraud.

Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip, said: "Given her husband's role in government, you have to ask whether this was the wisest job to take."

Spanish-born Ms Gonzalez is a specialist on EU law and wrote a book on the World Trade Organisation's telecom agreements after working as a negotiator in Brussels for its director-general, the former UK trade secretary Leon Brittan.

She spent 12 years at the European Commission and was senior adviser to commissioner Lord Pattern, another former Tory minister. She met her husband there when he was a trade negotiator with Lord Brittan, who was last year made a trade adviser to the coalition government.

Ms Gonzalez says Dechert provides a platform for building her legal practice.

Andrew Levander, the chairman of Dechert's policy committee, said: "She will be a terrific asset to the firm. We seek to hire men and women with sharp minds."

Ms Gonzalez was previously a Foreign Office policy adviser on the Middle East and is now a director of Acciona, a Spanish renewable energy group. But Mr Farage says: "The Deputy Prime Minister will be the first to know about EU policy and trading, while Ms Gonzalez's new role sees her as an EU trade chief for an international company. By taking this position she will face ongoing accusations of conflict of interest."

Her defenders compare her position with that of Tony Blair's wife, Cherie, who, as a barrister, sometimes fought cases that conflicted with government policy. Dechert insiders say any conflict is little different to Ms Gonzalez's work at DLA Piper.