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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Rajah & Tann

05 April 2019

Secured another win for Lesotho in Singaporean courts

People in Who's Who Legal 1
People in Future Leaders 1
Pending cases as counsel 100+
Value of pending counsel work US$34.7 billion+
Treaty cases 0
Third-party funded cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 14 (6 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

Rajah & Tann, founded in 1976, 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 around 2006, 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 around 20 partners working on the area. It has expanded, 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, Shanghai and Vientiane. It has recently added an office in Yangon.

A 2014 tie-up with Vietnamese firm LCT Lawyers gave it offices in Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Da Nang. It also has affiliations with firms in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, 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, Lesotho, Indonesia, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Mauritius’s State Trading Corporation. It has also been appointed as legal adviser to the Chinese embassy in Singapore, advising on matters relating to the embassy itself as well as Chinese citizens and companies.

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 partly reinstated a year later.

The firm settled a series of disputes worth a combined US$8 billion in 2015 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.

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.

Recent events

After winning Lesotho the first ever set-aside of an investment treaty award on the merits in Singapore in August 2017 Rajah & Tann, working with Sam Wordsworth QC, was more recently successful in having that decision upheld. The UNCITRAL award had held Lesotho liable for acquiescing in the closure of a southern African regional court that had been hearing a US$200 million expropriation claim by a group of South African mining investors. After successfully defending the set aside decision the tribunal hearing a second, Mauritius-seated arbitration brought by some of the same mining investors against Lesotho will have to decide whether its mandate has been terminated.

Other success came persuading the Singapore High Court to exempt a group of minors from the enforcement of a US$550 million ICC award against Indian brothers Malvinder and Shivinder Mohan Singh and others. The minors argued that the award, held by Japanese drug maker Daiichi Sankyo, had wrongly made them liable for the fraudulent actions of their guardian. The award was upheld against the adult and corporate sellers, who were represented by WongPartnership.

The firm had less luck securing a set aside for China Machine New Energy Corp before the Singapore High Court, which rejected its client’s petition. The US$149 million ICC award was issued in favour of a subsidiary of Houston-based energy company AEI in 2015, a proceeding in which Rajah & Tann was not involved.

Rajah & Tann is defending the Philippines in an ICC arbitration arising from the state’s demand for US$3 billion in back taxes from subsidiaries of Shell and Chevron. The oil majors filed the claim in 2017 following the tax demand and the dispute has also given rise to an ICSID arbitration in which Rajah & Tann is not involved.

The firm has also been acting for the Philippines in an UNCITRAL dispute – seated in Singapore and administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration – with water utility Maynilad. In 2017, the tribunal hearing the arbitration issues a US$67 million partial final award in favour of Maynilad which was upheld by the Singapore High Court a year later following a challenge from the state. 

A new instruction has come from Australian casino operator Donaco International in a US$120 million SIAC claim against a former Thai business partner. Donaco alleges the business partner breached a non-compete agreement after selling it a casino by running his own gambling operation next door and another concealed in a supermarket.

The firm is also acting for Masan Group, one of Vietnam’s biggest private resource companies, in two parallel SIAC arbitrations worth in excess of US$100 million concerning a mining project in the country.

Rajah & Tann could not prevent enforcement of a US$270 million SIAC award against client ST Group by Sanum Investments, its former partner in three slot-machine clubs in Laos.

Thea Raman and Kevin Tan were both appointed to the partnership in 2018. Raman has particular experience of construction, projects and infrastructure disputes while Tan has a broad practice which includes commercial litigation.

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