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GAR 100 - 13th Edition

Zulficar & Partners

22 April 2020

Partner Mohamed Abdel Wahab is much in demand as expert witness and arbitrator as well as counsel

People in Who's Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 25
Value of pending counsel work US$2.2 billion
Treaty cases 5
Current arbitrator appointments 13 (5 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 1

Founded in 2009, this Cairo-based firm’s international arbitration practice works on oil and gas, telecoms, finance and banking and IT disputes.

The practice is headed by its founding partner Mohamed Abdel Wahab. As an Egyptian firm, naturally much of its work involves disputes at the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA). But it also has a number of SIAC, ICC and ad hoc cases on its books, and has done work at ICSID.

Abdel Wahab, who also heads the firm’s project management practice, has the biggest international profile of the group for arbitration. He is a vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and a member of the CIETAC panel of arbitrators and a vocal proponent of the use of arbitration for resolving Islamic finance disputes. He is also a member of the IBA’s core advisory group that is considering reforms to investor-state arbitration.

He has also been featured as a “thought leader” in arbitration by Who’s Who Legal and has received a prize for his advocacy from the Swiss Arbitration Association. 

The arbitration team also includes partners Youssef Al Saman and Ingy Badawy and four senior associates.

Who uses it?

Clients include Cemex, Bechtel, Bawabet Al Kuwait Holding Company, Saipem, Shelf Drilling, Crédit Agricole, Dragon Oil, Methanex, Philip Morris International, Orange Total, Egyptian General Petroleum Company, Ford, Honda, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Goldman Sachs and APM Terminals.

The firm has also represented Bahrain and Canada.

Track record

In 2017, Zulficar helped mobile operator Orange Egypt (formerly Mobinil) settle an eight-year Cairo Centre arbitration with an Egyptian state-owned telecoms company over interconnection fees. At the time of settlement, the tribunal had already upheld Orange’s claim in principle and dismissed a US$1.8 billion counterclaim by the state entity, but had yet to reach a final award on damages.

The year before, as co-counsel with Clifford Chance, the firm helped Bawabet Al Kuwait Holding Company – part of the business empire of Kuwait’s wealthy Al-Kharafi family – settle a US$400 million ICSID claim against Egypt. The case concerned gas pricing and tax measures that affected a petrochemicals investment. The terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed.

The firm has had a number of successes for Egyptian General Petroleum Company (EGPC). In one London-seated case, the client only got the firm involved 18 months into the proceedings, having failed to retain external counsel before that point. Zulficar nevertheless turned things around and won an award with costs in EGPC’s favour.

It also helped EGPC settle a US$200 million claim brought by Egyptian oil company PICO, shortly after filing a statement of defence.

The firm acted for an Egyptian developer, SODIC, in a US$1.6 billion dispute with Lebanese developer Solidere, which settled in 2014 after a favourable decision on jurisdiction.

It defended a subsidiary of Orascom in a US$390 million gas pricing dispute with two Egyptian state companies, EGAS and Gasco, at the Cairo Centre.

In the Egyptian courts, the firm helped the production company of Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef overturn a US$14 million award in favour of Cairo TV network CBC.

Recent events

The firm secured a win for Egyptian real estate developer Amer in a US$530 million CRCICA dispute with a Syrian entity over a tourism project in Syria. The client was awarded over US$40 million in early 2019.

Zulficar has also helped Shelf Drilling – an Cayman drilling rig contractor –obtain favourable rulings in several CRCICA arbitrations. It represented the client against an Italian oil & gas corporation in a US$11 million arbitration, which was ultimately settled after the company submitted its request for joinder of shareholders.

During the past year, the firm has received instructions in a number of major energy disputes, as both counsel and legal expert, in Egyptian, Kuwaiti and Omani law.

Abdel Wahab also weighed in as an expert witness on Qatari law on behalf of Spanish group OHL and Egypt’s Orascom Construction, in a dispute with a Qatari state-backed foundation over a £1.9 billion medical facility in Doha.

As arbitrator, Abdel Wahab was part of an ICC tribunal that dismissed a €60 million investment treaty claim against Libya brought by a Turkish construction company Öztaş over a water project.

He also sat on a divided ICC panel that upheld claims by a Lebanese food company against its former Kuwaiti business partner Kout Food Group – which has set the stage for as potential confrontation between the English and French courts on whether the award can be enforced against a non-signatory.

In 2019, Abdel Wahab was named the African arbitrator of the year by the Association of Young Arbitrators in London. He is also a part of the practitioners’ group on reform of investor-state dispute settlement at UNCITRAL.

He has also been named to the 15-strong selection committee entrusted with finding a candidate to replace Alexis Mourre as president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration when he steps down in June 2021.

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