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GAR 100 - 13th Edition

WongPartnership

22 April 2020

Secured a favourable award in an ICC claim against a Middle Eastern state

People in Who's Who Legal 2
People in Future Leaders 1
Pending cases as counsel 73
Value of pending counsel work US$12 billion
Treaty cases 3
Third-party funded cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 14 (11 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 9

WongPartnership started life in 1992 as specialist litigation firm Wong Meng Meng & Partners, comprising 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, and prides itself on taking on matters with no relation to Singapore. This is particularly true in the investment arbitration sphere, where it is increasingly visible.

The firm’s international arbitration practice is led by Alvin Yeo SC, a respected arbitrator and counsel. Yeo is a member of the ICC Commission on Arbitration and the SIAC’s council of advisers, and is on the ICDR’s Energy Arbitrators List. Another partner to know is Koh Swee Yen, who works on some of the group’s highest-profile cases.

The litigation and dispute resolution group is led by senior counsel Andre Maniam, who acts as counsel in a number of commercial disputes and is on the panel of arbitrators of SIAC, the Asian International Arbitration Centre and the Russian Arbitration Center at the Russian Institute of Modern Arbitration.

Network

In addition to Singapore, WongPartnership has offices in Shanghai and Beijing. In 2014, it opened its first office in Myanmar. It has alliances with firms in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and the UAE.

Who uses it?

Malaysian media conglomerate Astro is one well-known client. Others include Unitas Capital (an offshoot of JPMorgan Private Equity), Hyundai Steel Company, Banyan Tree Holdings, EY, Shanghai Electric Group and Yantai Raffles Shipyard. It has represented L Capital, the private equity arm of Louis Vuitton, in several disputes.

As for investor-state work, it has acted for gaming companies Sanum Investments and Lao Holdings in a billion-dollar dispute with Laos over a casino; and for South African mining investors in a dispute with Lesotho. Papua New Guinea is a notable state client.

Track record

Papua New Guinea retained the firm for an ICSID case and was rewarded with a complete victory in 2015 when a tribunal chaired by Gary Born ruled that the country’s investment promotion law didn’t provide a freestanding consent to arbitrate. It marked the first time a Singaporean firm had appeared as sole counsel in an ICSID case (Clifford Chance was on the other side).

Around 2009, the firm helped Malaysia’s Astro win a US$130 million SIAC award against Indonesian conglomerate Lippo in a dispute over a failed satellite television venture – but the bulk of the award was later set aside in a closely watched Singapore court action. However, the entire award has been enforced by the courts in Hong Kong.

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 case took place in London and spawned litigation in the courts of Atlanta and Singapore.

The firm acted successfully for the main contractor of an oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea in a proceeding 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.

WongPartnership has been part of a number of precedent-setting cases about arbitration in the Singapore courts. In 2016, it won the reinstatement of an UNCITRAL tribunal’s jurisdictional award against Laos permitting client Sanum Investments to resume a billion-dollar treaty claim. The case attracted much commentary because of its implications for some 130 Chinese investment treaties and the courts’ scope to second-guess arbitrators on questions of public international law.

The firm helped set aside the bulk of a US$100 million SIAC award concerning steel assets in the Philippines – a case that has clarified the limited scope for curial intervention in the arbitral process in Singapore.

In another case, the firm represented a Thai media company in a dispute with a BVI sports promoter concerning a Bangkok tennis tournament. The firm persuaded the Singapore courts to uphold a SIAC award embodying the parties’ settlement. The case has been credited with helping to define the scope of the public policy challenge to enforcement in Singapore.

Recent events

WongPartnership says it secured a favourable final award for a subsidiary of a Singapore-listed multinational conglomerate in a US$100 million ICC dispute with a Middle Eastern state over a waste management facility.

It also helped a South Korean state-owned company defend an ICC award in the Singapore High Court despite allegations that it obtained the award fraudulently.

The firm’s client Sanum suffered a setback enforcing a US$200 million SIAC award it had won against a private Lao business partner, ST Group. The Singapore Court of Appeal barred enforcement of the award on the basis that the arbitrators wrongly chose Singapore and not Macao as the arbitral seat, overturning a ruling of the Singapore High Court that had allowed enforcement regardless.

WongPartnership continues to defend India against a claim by an investor challenging a US$2.9 billion tax assessment. India has also commenced proceedings before the Singapore High Court to challenge a partial award made on jurisdictional issues and separately regarding issues of confidentiality in the case. 

The firm has been instructed by two Indonesian companies in ICC arbitrations concerning alleged breaches of agreements to build and operate an oil storage and blending complex in Indonesia.

A corporate purchaser of cryptocurrency is using the firm in a SIAC arbitration against the shareholders of a cryptocurrency exchange operator.

The firm’s pending commercial work includes acting for an Indonesian fund in a US$1 billion share ownership dispute with a Philippines conglomerate relating to toll-road concessions; and a Korean entertainment company in a Singapore-seated ICC arbitration which has resulted in two further spin-off arbitrations.

It also reports acting for a Singapore-listed multinational in a Paris-seated ICC dispute against a Middle Eastern state concerning a US$1 billion waste management facility.

Four senior associates were promoted to the partnership in Singapore: Lesley Fu, Monica Chong Wan Yee, Russell Pereira and Ho Wei Jie. Partners Jacqueline Chua and Sim Mei Ling left the firm in early 2019.

Client comment

Edmund Chan, general counsel for ExxonMobil 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 officer of Italian pipe coating company Socotherm, says he has recommended the firm to friends. “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.”

Insight

Reviews

Regional analysis from arbitrators around the globe, focussing on key developments in specific industry areas and jurisdictions.

Meaar 2020 reviews banner 20x5

The Middle Eastern and African Arbitration Review 2020

Highlights

AfCFTA and the Upcoming Protocol on Investment: What Can Investors Expect?

Théobald Naud, Maxime Desplats and Ophélie Divoy

DLA Piper

Analysing Liquidity: When the State of Matter matters to Expert Valuers in Damages Assessments

Jonathan Ruffell, Steve Harris and James Church-Morley

FTI Consulting