The Belgian firm is increasingly visible in high-stakes enforcement matters
|People in Who’s Who Legal||1|
|People in Future Leaders||1|
|Pending cases as counsel||10|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$727 million|
|Current arbitrator appointments||2 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||2|
Founded in Brussels in 1965, Liedekerke was one of the few players in the Belgian market to resist the trend of integration with Anglo-American law firms in the early 2000s. It has remained independent ever since, making the disputes team less hampered by conflicts of interest than some of their competitors.
Liedekerke got into international disputes at an early stage. In 1970, two of the founding partners, John Kirkpatrick and Michel Waelbroeck, represented Belgium before the International Court of Justice in the landmark Barcelona Traction case concerning protection of foreign shareholders.
The firm has developed a strong focus on francophone Africa and handles arbitrations for various companies and governments in the region. It’s also been involved in some of the biggest enforcement proceedings to have reached the Belgian courts in recent years, including the Yukos case against Russia.
Partner Hakim Boularbah heads the litigation and arbitration practice, while Nicolas Angelet steers the public international law practice and sits as an ICSID arbitrator.
While the arbitration team is based in Brussels, Liedekerke benefits from an office in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which opened in 2015. It also has an office in London.
Who uses it?
The firm’s government clients include Belgium, Kazakhstan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose national mining company Gécamines regularly uses it for commercial arbitrations. Kazakhstan is another high-profile client.
Besides the Yukos shareholders, its private clients include Swedish businessman Viorel Micula (in enforcement proceedings against Romania) and Belgian export credit agency Credendo.
Together with Foley Hoag, the firm helped Belgium see off a €1 billion ICSID claim brought by a Chinese shareholder in Fortis financial services group in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. The case was thrown out on jurisdictional grounds in 2015.
It has had several wins for the DRC. In one case, it defeated a US$150 million claim by the Congolese subsidiary of a US grain dealer in a Zurich-seated arbitration at the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution. Liedekerke also knocked out the vast majority of a US$750 million ICC claim by another US investor.
Defending Burundi, the firm reduced a US$14 million ICSID claim to an award of just US$209,000 plus interest against the state in 2016 – half of what the claimant spent in bringing the case.
Liedekerke has been representing Kazakhstan in its efforts to lift attachments obtained by Moldovan investors Anatolie and Gabriel Stati, who are seeking to enforce a US$520 million Energy Charter Treaty award. The case has given rise to a headline-grabbing freeze on over US$22 billion in assets held at the Bank of New York Mellon on behalf of Kazakhstan’s central bank.
The firm continues to advise Viorel Micula in enforcement proceedings against Romania that have seen the intervention of the European Commission.
Its efforts to enforce the US$50 billion award against Russia came to a premature end in late 2017, with the former Yukos shareholders announcing it no longer made economic sense to pursue enforcement in Belgium in the wake of a new sovereign immunity law.
The firm has been advising the government of Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium that refused to ratify the Canada-European Union free trade deal. The Liedekerke lawyers have helped the government draft a request to the European Court of Justice asking for clarity on whether the deal’s proposal for an investment court is compliant with EU law.
Guy Lepage from asset management group La Française says he considers the firm “one of the best in Europe” – particularly for its enforcement work. Angelet and Boularbah could be “totally trusted” on their legal opinions, and their fees are “always reasonable”.