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GAR 100 - 13th Edition

Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick

22 April 2020

Settled an ICC dispute over a copper and cobalt mining venture

People in Who's Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 9
Value of pending counsel work US$873 million+
Treaty cases 1
Third-party funded cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 3 (2 as chair or sole)
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. Liedekerke is one of the few Belgian firms that also acts in foreign court proceedings including in France, Canada and the UK.

Recently there has been major upheaval at the firm. Head of litigation and arbitration Hakim Boularbah left with a team of associates to join Loyens & Loeff; and the head of public international law, Nicolas Angelet, decided to set up his own independent practice.

The litigation and arbitration practice is now lead by Arnaud Nuyts, who has been at the firm for almost three decades. There will be no immediate replacement for the head of public international law but Nuyts will continue to work alongside partners Aimery De Schoutheete and Roel Fransis in the arbitration team.

Network

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, and another in London.

Although it has no base there the firm is also involved in a number of disputes involving Middle Eastern parties.

Who uses it?

The firm’s government clients include Belgium, 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 Lebanon’s Consolidated Contractors Company, and Belgian export credit agency Credendo.

Track record

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.

It was also successful in having attachments on more than US$22 billion in assets owned by a Kazakhstan sovereign wealth fund lifted by a Belgian court. The court concluded that it would be sufficient to maintain a freeze on US$520 million, the full amount of the Energy Charter Treaty award held against Kazakhstan by Moldovan investors Anatolie and Gabriel Stati. That proceeding remains ongoing.

Recent events

Liedekerke helped Gécamines settle an ICC claim worth US$150 million that it brought against subsidiaries of China’s Jinchuan Group over a copper and cobalt mining venture. Although it did not identify Gécamines by name, Jinchuan revealed in a stock exchange filing that its subsidiaries had agreed to pay US$25 million to a minority shareholder in the venture.

In other state work Liedekerke is helping Poland challenge a US$10 million treaty award won by a subsidiary of US hedge fund manager Elliott Management in the Brussels Court of First Instance.

Client comment

Viki Topalidou, counsel at Qatari group Lysys, says the firm acted in an arbitration concerning an IT infrastructure project the group had with a US multinational. While Brussels is “not necessarily the first place you would think of to find international arbitration practitioners,” she says her group has found a “gem” and the firm has “nothing to envy” about practices in more established arbitral hubs.  

Nuyts is “absolutely outstanding with strategy” and both he and associate Bruno Hardy “go the extra-mile for their client.” Although the arbitral hearing was “David against Goliath,” with the opposing party’s counsel team three times the size, Nuyts and Hardy ensured that “the other side would be the paying party.”

Another client says that Nuyts commands “immense respect” with leading arbitrators who “clearly hold him in very high regard” and trust his legal analysis. “He very clearly dominated the battlefield; he is confident without being arrogant; bold but not reckless.”

A counsel at a Greek construction company says the firm is highly professional, prompt, conducts excellent work and has reasonable legal fees. Nuyts is an “outstanding scholar” and “highly dedicated professional.”

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