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GAR 100 - 13th Edition

Rajah & Tann

17 April 2020

The heaviest user of SIAC and a successful operator in the Singapore courts

People in Who's Who Legal 1
People in Future Leaders 1
Pending cases as counsel 100+
Value of pending counsel work US$36.8 billion
Treaty cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 18 (8 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 says it is not only the heaviest user of SIAC but has also been involved in almost half the cases brought before the Singapore International Commercial Court.

It regards its main competitors for high-end and complex arbitration work not as other Singapore firms, but international firms in the UK and the USA.

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.

Three years later, the firm settled a series of disputes worth a combined US$8 billion for the owners of an Indonesian goldmine. It has also had wins for a Thai public company in arbitration with Singapore; Indonesian entities in cases over 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 2017, Rajah & Tann secured the first ever set-aside of an investment treaty award on the merits in Singapore, on behalf of its client Lesotho, a decision that was upheld on appeal.  The UNCITRAL award 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.

Another court success involved 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 alone.

Recent events

There was a setback for the firm’s client, the government of the Philippines, in an ICC dispute with Shell and Chevron over a US$15 billion back tax demand. The tribunal agreed with the oil majors that they did not have to pay. The same dispute has also given rise to an ICSID arbitration in which Rajah & Tann is not involved.

The Philippines had also been using Rajah & Tann in two contractual claims together worth almost US$3 billion brought against the state by public water utilities Maynilad and Manila Water at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In 2019, Manila Water reported winning a US$145 million award, though the utilities have since reportedly renounced their claims.

A better result was obtained for a Singaporean subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lippo group. Rajah & Tann helped it win a SIAC award worth US$42 million plus interest arising from dispute over control of a Chinese hospital.

In the Singapore Court of Appeal, meanwhile, the firm overturned a judgment that had enforced a US$200 million SIAC award against ST Group in a dispute over slot-machine clubs in Laos. The appeals court ruled that the arbitrators wrongly chose Singapore and not Macao as the arbitral seat.

Other recent instructions include acting for Australian casino operator Donaco International in a SIAC dispute worth US$240 million against a former Thai business partner, again relating to casinos; and representing 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.

A Dutch subsidiary of US bottlemaker Owens-Illinois is also using the firm as it seeks to enforce a US$400 million ICSID award against Venezuela in Singapore.

Client comment

A client who used Rajah & Tann in an arbitration concerning the non-delivery of goods says the “constant determination and drive” of partner Paul Tan, and senior associates Zhuang Wenxiong and Jonathan Lai, gave the client confidence the case was in good hands.

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