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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

WongPartnership

18 February 2016

The Singapore firm triumphed in its first ICSID case as lead counsel

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 39
Value of pending counsel work: US$6.3 billion
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 11 (of which 6 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 4

WongPartnership started life as specialist litigation firm Wong Meng Meng & Partners in 1992 and comprised a dozen lawyers. Two years later, it merged with a corporate practice and became WongPartnership. Today, it has more than 280 lawyers and is one of Singapore’s largest firms. It handles arbitrations on a domestic level and across Asia.

The firm’s international arbitration practice is led by Alvin Yeo SC, a respected arbitrator and counsel. Yeo is a member of the LCIA court, the ICC Commission on Arbitration and the SIAC’s council of advisers, and is also listed in the ICDR’s Energy Arbitrators List.

Network

In addition to Singapore, WongPartnership has offices in Shanghai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. In June 2014, it also opened its first office in Myanmar. Alliances with Malaysian boutique Foong & Partners and Indonesian firm Makes & Partners have also given it capabilities in these jurisdictions.

Who uses it?

Astro All Asia Networks is one well-known client. Other clients include Unitas Capital (an offshoot of JPMorgan Private Equity), Hyundai Steel Company, Banyan Tree Holdings, Ernst & Young, Shanghai Electric Group and Yantai Raffles Shipyard.

Alongside Debevoise & Plimpton, it’s been assisting US casino investors in a fierce dispute with the government of Laos. An unusual state client is Papua New Guinea in an ICSID case and related litigation.

Track record

Lengthy. One of the team’s early milestones was the successful defence of a dozen Asian airlines in 1998 after they were sued by a US computerised reservations system company for US$300 million. That ICC arbitration took place in London and spawned litigation in the courts of Atlanta and Singapore.

The firm won a US$230 million award for members of the Astro group of companies – an international media conglomerate – only to see the bulk of the award knocked down by the Singapore Court of Appeal in 2013.

More happily, it acted successfully for the main contractor of an oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea in an action against the platform’s owners that involved questions relating to liability for costs relating to the SARS epidemic that gripped Hong Kong and south China in 2003.

In court, the team has been part of a number of precedent-setting cases about arbitration, including Tang Boon Jek Jeffrey v Tan Poh Leng Stanley and Holland v Toyo Engineering, as well as AJT v AJU. In this last case, WongPartnership represented a Thai media company in a dispute with a BVI sports promoter concerning a Bangkok tennis tournament they were jointly organising. The firm won a decision from the Singapore Court of Appeal upholding an SIAC award embodying a settlement agreement. The case has been credited with helping to define the scope of the public policy challenge to enforcement in Singapore.

Recent events

WongPartnership helped Papua New Guinea defeat an ICSID claim brought by a development company chaired by the country’s former prime minister. The firm prevailed on jurisdictional arguments that the country’s investment promotion act didn’t provide a standing offer to arbitrate.

It also helped to set aside the bulk of a US$100 million SIAC award concerning steel assets in the Philippines. The case featured many of Singapore’s leading law firms representing the numerous parties involved.

Acting for an Italian client, it won a US$17 million award against a Malaysian listed company in a dispute relating to a joint venture under Malaysian law, also knocking out a counterclaim.

Client comment

A partner at a GAR 30 firm who has worked with the firm on a number of large-scale disputes says: “The lawyers at Wong consistently deliver confident, considered advice, and produce a high-quality work product in a manner that seems effortless. Over the years I have come to appreciate their strategic insights, especially when it comes to strategy in court proceedings related to arbitration. They know the judges, and they know the issues – and they know what works and what doesn’t.”

The partner adds: “Alvin Yeo is a master – smart, practical and confident. His junior partner Swee Yen Koh is a marvel – one of the hardest-working and most responsive lawyers I have ever encountered.”

Edmund Chan, general counsel for Exxon Mobil in Singapore, retained WongPartnership for an “extremely important” dispute. He praises the firm’s “good strategic thinking and quick grasp of the details”. While the firm was “not the cheapest”, the price was reasonable in light of the quality of the work, he adds.

Jonathan Gibson, chief executive office of Italian pipe coating company Socotherm, says he has already recommended the firm to friends after his company retained them for a dispute. “I was most impressed by the detail and amount of preparation of our team. They delved deeply into complex technical matters and quickly obtained a very good understanding.”

He adds: “The other side changed law firms after the first round, and we were up against a QC who is reputed to be one of the top lawyers in Singapore. Our team put their top QC into bat as well – he was very impressive at interrogating the witnesses.”