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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Rajah & Tann

18 February 2016

The Singaporean firm has increased its Senior Counsel count and done a lot of work for the Philippines among other high-profile instructions

Pending cases as counsel: 100+
Value of pending counsel work: US$16 billion+
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 29 (of which 16 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 11

Rajah & Tann is one of Singapore’s leading full-service firms, founded in 1955. 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 prodigal lawyers returned between 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 for 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 into 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 UAE-based Al Tamimi & Company. Its Malaysian associate firm was involved in a merger with two others in 2015 to create a full-service law firm, Christopher & Lee Ong.

Specialist internal groups focus on other Asian jurisdictions.

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; and Australia’s Thiess.

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), Indonesia, the Philippines and Kazakhstan.

Track record

In 2012, Rajah & Tann secured a significant SIAC award against the Philippine National Bank and several other Philippine 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 partially reinstated this year.

The firm has also brought in wins for a Thai public company in arbitration with Singapore and Indonesian entities over breaches of 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.

It was behind what is said to have been the largest claim emanating from Vietnam at the SIAC.

Recent events

The firm hired new partner Tan Chuan Thye SC, formerly of Stamford Morgan Lewis, bringing its SC count to five.

A big win was the partial reinstatement of a US$100 million partial award for two special vehicle companies associated with Indian steel magnate Pramod Mittal from the Singapore Court of Appeal, after it was set aside by the High Court last year. The High Court and subsequent Court of Appeal cases have been some of the most complex and high profile of recent years in the Singapore courts, with most of the city’s major firms involved.

It also won a stay of proceedings on a claim against minerals client Lionsgate Holdings from the Court of Appeal, convincing the court to break from English case law precedent and adopting a prima facie standard of review for stay of proceedings in favour of arbitration. Outside of the courts, it settled four disputes worth over US$8 billion for the owners of an Indonesian goldmine.

New instructions include an investment treaty claim against Madagascar at ICSID for Mauritian furniture company Courts relating to property damage during anti-government riots in 2009. Also related to Mauritius, it will be defending the state’s trading arm against a US$180 million SIAC claim by a Singapore-Mauritian joint venture over the termination of an oil tanker construction contract. The dispute involves public procurement and corruption allegations.

The firm is representing a major Chinese construction and engineering company in disputes worth US$250 million related to agreements of the construction of four coal-fired power plants in India and acting for a global oil and gas services provider in a SIAC case with an African contactor, involving issues of Singaporean and Nigerian law.

It is also advising a foreign development group on a dispute with the Myanmar government over the cancellation of a development close to the famous Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, with international commercial or investor-state arbitration being canvassed among the potential options.

Other work involves defending the Philippines against claims by Shell and Chevron relating to taxes on revenue from a Petroleum exploration and production service facility in Palawan and against a water services company in another tax-related case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Client comment

Rodney Yap, in house counsel for Pacific Fibre Ltd, retained the firm for an ongoing supply of goods dispute: “R&T’s expertise, diligence and most of all, their availability to respond to queries are what distinguished them from the others. It gives the client the confidence that the matter is handled efficiently and professionally,” he says. Paul Tan, Jonathan Lee and Daniel Gaw “provided excellent support and are knowledgeable in terms of the matter and the law.”

Antony Crockett, senior associate at Herbert Smith Freehills, praises the firm’s work on arbitration-related court applications in Singapore: “The team at Rajah & Tann are technically first-rate and also practical, commercial and easy to work with.”

A well-known English QC who was co-counsel with the firm in a substantial investment treaty arbitration says it “did a superb job, at very reasonable rates, with very good insight on all legal and evidential issues.” He particularly praises “star in the making” Paul Tan.