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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Rajah & Tann

02 March 2017

The Singaporean firm is acting for Lesotho, Mauritius and the Philippines

People in Who’s Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 100
Value of pending counsel work US$31.8 billion
Treaty cases 1
Current arbitrator appointments 38 (of which 24 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 14

Rajah & Tann, founded in 1955, is one of Singapore’s leading full-service firms. The roots of the international arbitration practice go back to 1999, when Sundaresh Menon (who went on to become Singapore’s attorney general and is now chief justice) and Chong Yee Leong worked on a case in Bangkok. Other cases swiftly followed and the pair worked in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka over the next four years.

In 2003, the entire group moved laterally to Jones Day, with Menon taking the role of head of international arbitration for Asia. However, the team returned 2006 and 2007, equipped with new international know-how and experience of arbitrations in London, Paris and Geneva. It was at this point that Rajah & Tann created a stand-alone arbitration practice, led by Chong Yee Leong.

There was further upheaval in 2013 as Chong and four other partners left to join rival Singaporean firm Allen & Gledhill. But the firm moved swiftly to fill their shoes, appointing Andre Yeap SC to take Chong’s place as practice head and promoting several younger members to the partnership.

Rajah & Tann reckons it still has the largest stand-alone arbitration practice of any firm in Singapore, with 27 lawyers dedicated to the area. It has expanded and grown in prominence, thanks in no small part to the Singaporean government’s drive to make the city-state an international arbitration hub in the region.

It says it regards its main competitors for high-end and complex arbitration work not as other Singapore firms, but international firms in the United Kingdom and United States.

Network

Apart from Singapore, the firm has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Vientiane and has also opened in the newly opened up Myanmar, in Yangon.

In 2014, it entered a tie-up with Vietnamese LCT Lawyers, with offices in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang. It also has affiliations with firms in Indonesia and Cambodia, and Al Tamimi & Company in the UAE.

Who uses it?

The firm advises clients in the energy, chemical, and construction and engineering sectors, such as Malakoff, the largest independent power producer in Malaysia; Petronas Chemicals Group; Korea’s GS Engineering and Construction, and Samsung C&T; Australia’s Thiess; and China Machine New Energy Corporation.

It also has metals and mining clients such as Sumitomo, Bhushan Power & Steel and Global Steel Philippines.

In the telecoms sector it has advised AT&T, and other well-known clients are Kempinski Hotels, Singapore Airlines and Air Asia.

Government clients include Laos (which it represented in a mining dispute as co-counsel with Jones Day), Lesotho, Indonesia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan.

Track record

In 2012, Rajah & Tann secured a US$100 million SIAC award against the Philippine National Bank and several other financial institutions, on behalf of companies owned by Indian steel magnate Pramod Mittal. The award was set aside by the Singapore High Court in 2014 but the award was partly reinstated in 2015.

Also in that year, the firm settled a series of disputes worth a combined US$8 billion for the owners of an Indonesian goldmine.

Rajah & Tann has brought in wins for a Thai public company in arbitration with Singapore and Indonesian entities under financing and coal supply agreements; and a Cayman Islands fund in a dispute over a joint venture with an Indonesian oil group to take on Libyan oil concessions.

In addition, it has had successes in interim relief and enforcement proceedings before the courts.

Recent events

In 2016, the firm persuaded the Singapore High Court to set aside a SIAC award against its client, an Indian trader of palm oil, for breach of natural justice because the case had been decided on the basis of arguments raised only 10 minutes before the end of the arbitration hearing.

The Kingdom of Lesotho retained the firm for a Singaporean action to set-aside an award that held the southern African state liable for a denial of justice. The highly unusual case relates to Lesotho’s role in the shuttering of a regional court in Namibia that had been hearing a mining expropriation claim worth US$200 million.

In another set-aside action, the firm is helping a Chinese contractor challenge a US$149 million ICC award in favour of a subsidiary of Houston-based Ashmore Energy International. The client argues that the arbitrators failed to consider allegations of bribery of public officials. 

Meanwhile it is defending the Mauritian state’s trading arm against a US$180 million SIAC claim over the termination of an oil tanker construction contract. That dispute also involves corruption allegations. Another pending case against the Myanmar government concerns the cancellation of a US$300 million development close to Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Philippines is still using the firm on some substantial matters, including defending claims by Shell and Chevron relating to taxes on revenue from a petroleum facility in Palawan; and a billion-dollar case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration brought by a water services company, also related to tax.

Karim Advani joined as foreign counsel.