Acting on its first ICSID case – for Papua New Guinea
|People in Who’s Who Legal:||1|
|Pending cases as counsel:||38|
|Value of pending counsel work:||US$4.5 billion|
|Current arbitrator appointments:||9 (of which 5 are as sole or chair)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator:||4|
WongPartnership started life as specialist litigation firm Wong Meng Meng & Partners in 1992 and comprised 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.
The firm’s international arbitration practice is led by Alvin Yeo SC, a respected arbitrator and counsel. Yeo is a member of the LCIA court, the ICC Commission on Arbitration and the SIAC’s council of advisers, and is also listed in the ICDR’s Energy Arbitrators List.
In addition to Singapore, WongPartnership has offices in Shanghai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. In June 2014, it also opened its first office in Myanmar. Alliances with Malaysian boutique Foong & Partners and Indonesian firm Makes & Partners have also given it capabilities in these jurisdictions.
Who uses it?
Astro All Asia Networks is one well-known client. Other clients include Unitas Capital (an offshoot of JPMorgan Private Equity), Hyundai Steel Company, Banyan Tree Holdings, Ernst & Young, Shanghai Electric Group and Yantai Raffles Shipyard.
A new state client is Papua New Guinea in an ICSID case).
Lengthy. 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 arbitration took place in London and spawned litigation in the courts of Atlanta and Singapore.
The firm won a US$230 million award for members of the Astro group of companies – an international media conglomerate – only to see the bulk of the award knocked down by the Singapore Court of Appeal in October 2013.
More happily, it acted successfully for the main contractor of an oil-drilling platform in the South China Sea in an action 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.
In court, the team has been part of a number of precedent-setting cases about arbitration, including Tang Boon Jek Jeffrey v Tan Poh Leng Stanley and Holland v Toyo Engineering, as well as the recent win in AJT v AJU. In this last case, WongPartnership represented a Thai media company in a dispute with a BVI sports promoter concerning a Bangkok tennis tournament they were jointly organising. The firm won a decision from the Singapore Court of Appeal upholding an SIAC award embodying a settlement agreement. The case has been credited with helping to define the scope of the public policy challenge to enforcement in Singapore.
The firm promoted one new partner, Lionel Leo, in its banking and financial disputes practice.
As mentioned above, it picked up its first instruction as counsel in an investor-state arbitration – helping Papua New Guinea defend a claim by a development company chaired by its former prime minister. The state has lodged jurisdictional objections, having failed to obtain a summary dismissal of the case. The firm is also advising in related Singapore court proceedings.
The firm has also been involved in one aspect of a billion-dollar treaty dispute involving Laos. It represented Macao company Sanum Investments in its efforts to defend an UNCITRAL jurisdictional award in the Singapore High Court. The court set aside the award in early 2015, holding that the arbitrators erred in holding that the China-Laos BIT extends protection to investors in Macao – which became part of China six years after the treaty was signed.
A better result saw the firm advise one of a number of applicants in the successful set-aside of a SIAC award worth more than US$200 million. The award, in favour of companies owned by Indian steel magnate Pramod Mittal, related to liabilities arising from the liquidation of the Philippines’ largest steelmaker. It also successfully upheld an ICC award for Hong Kong glass producer Xinyi against a set-aside application by Italian company Triulzi Cesare.
Its pending caseload includes acting for a UAE company in a SIAC arbitration worth US$127 million over a failed telecoms joint venture with an Indian partner; and an Israeli electrical goods company in two claims against a Chinese consumer goods producer, arising out of distributorship agreements.
Several of its lawyers have received significant appointments within professional associations in 2014. Koh Swee-Yen is a new co-chair of SIAC’s young practitioners group, YSIAC, and was appointed to the steering committee of the IBA Arbitration Committee’s under-40 group, while Smitha Menon was appointed to the Asia regional co-ordinating committee for the ICC Young Arbitrators Forum.
Edmund Chan, general counsel for Exxon Mobil 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 office of Italian pipe coating company Socotherm, says he has already recommended the firm to friends after his company retained them for a dispute. “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.”
He adds: “The other side changed law firms after the first round, and we were up against a QC who is reputed to be one of the top lawyers in Singapore. Our team put their top QC into bat as well – he was very impressive at interrogating the witnesses.”
WongPartnership has a leading international arbitration practice with extensive expertise and experience in managing and conducting arbitrations in jurisdictions around the world and involving all the major arbitral institutions. With offices in Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Yangon, we are able to provide international solutions.
With more than 100 lawyers, including four Senior Counsel, our Group has specialist teams covering Banking & Financial Disputes, Commercial & Corporate Disputes, Infrastructure, Construction & Engineering, International Arbitration and Specialist & Private Client Disputes.
Many of our partners are accredited arbitrators with leading international arbitral institutions. These include the Asia Pacific Regional Arbitration Group, the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board, the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration, the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission.
We are consistently acknowledged and ranked highly by many international legal directories and are proud to be listed in Global Arbitration Review's top 100 arbitration firms in the world.
Alvin YEO, Senior Counsel
d +65 6416 8101
e [email protected]
Andre MANIAM, Senior Counsel
Head – Litigation & Dispute Resolution Group
d +65 6416 8134
e [email protected]