Has enjoyed a series of victories in the Singapore courts and is now advising Amazon on a multibillion-dollar matter relating to India
|People in Who’s Who Legal||3|
|Pending cases as counsel||88|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$13.8 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||5|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||20 (17 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||7|
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 and was recently elected to Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy’s executive committee.
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.
In addition to Singapore, WongPartnership has an office in Shanghai and opened its first office in Myanmar in 2014. 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.
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).
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 in a billion-dollar arbitration against Laos. 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.
Going further back, the firm helped Malaysia’s Astro win a US$130 million SIAC award against Indonesian conglomerate Lippo in 2009 over a failed satellite television venture – but the bulk of the award was later set aside in Singapore. However, the entire award was enforced by the courts in Hong Kong.
Working alongside two Indian firms, WongPartnership has been instructed by Amazon to pursue a SIAC claim against India’s Future Group to block the US$3.4 billion sale of its retail business to Reliance Industries. Amazon has already obtained an emergency arbitrator order to restrain the sale and has enforced it in the Delhi High Court.
WongPartnership has enjoyed a winning streak for South Korean videogame developer WeMade in ICC arbitrations over the licensing of an online role-playing game series, The Legend of MIR 2. The firm secured a win on liability in one case and is now pursuing a US$2 billion damages claim. It secured awards in two earlier arbitrations, collectively worth close to US$140 million.
WeMade is also using the firm in a SIAC dispute over follow-up title The Legend of MIR 3. In 2020, the tribunal ruled in WeMade’s favour in a partial award.
There was a triumph for Thai client Nop Narongdej before the Singapore Court of Appeal, which annulled a set of ICC awards worth over US$700 million rendered against his wind energy companies. The awards were obtained by a former business associate, Nopporn Suppipat, who fled Thailand following a military coup and was granted political asylum in France.
The firm obtained a landmark ruling for a Turks and Caicos-based client in the Singapore High Court, which ruled for the first time that a joint bank account can be garnished where there is a strong prima facie basis to conclude that all the money in it belongs to the debtor.
For an Indian client, it defended a SIAC award from a challenge by a Singaporean businessman who was found to have made fraudulent misrepresentations to his partners in a failed construction business.
WongParnership helped Singaporean conglomerate Keppel FELS defeat an enforcement action brought by Norwegian oilfield equipment maker NOV after demonstrating the award was in favour of a separate entity that had ceased to exist before the arbitration even started.
Coal-mining company Thai-Lao Lignite is using the firm for a US$450 million UNCITRAL claim against Laos over the termination of a power plant project, after a prior award it won over the same matter was set aside by the Malaysian courts (WongPartnership was not involved at that stage of the dispute).
The firm is representing two Indonesian companies in ICC arbitrations concerning an oil storage complex in Indonesia. A corporate purchaser of cryptocurrency is using the firm in a SIAC case against the shareholders of a cryptocurrency exchange operator.
Other 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 Singapore-listed multinational in a Paris-seated ICC case against a Middle Eastern state concerning a US$1 billion waste management facility.
In 2020, six senior associates – Asfian Mohaimi, Joel Quek, Oh Sheng Loong Frank, Tang Shangwei, Jill Ann Koh and Vithiya Rajendra – were promoted to partner in Singapore. Meanwhile, partner Russell Pereira left the firm.
Angela Chow, CEO of Hong Kong’s Cachet Group, used the firm for a case over a blockchain-related investment and says its work was “nothing short of excellent.”
She says Wendy Lin “has impressed me since the first day we met with her fierce intelligence, creativity and clarity of thought”. Chow calls her “a first-class advocate” who “more than held her own against a very senior silk – she was able to skilfully take apart the other party’s witnesses, notching points in our favour along the way, and even managed to make the worst aspects of our case seem reasonably good.”
Edmund Chan, general counsel for ExxonMobil in Singapore, praises the firm’s “good strategic thinking and quick grasp of the details”. The price was reasonable in light of the quality of the work, he adds.
Our International Arbitration Practice is one of the largest in the region, with capabilities in commercial, financial, and investor-state arbitrations seated anywhere in the world and under all major arbitration rules, including AIAC, CIETAC, DIAC, HKIAC, ICC, LCIA, SIAC and UNCITRAL.
We lead the pack in Asia’s top arbitration hub. Our lawyers have acted in some of the most significant arbitrations in the region, almost all investor-state arbitration disputes to have come before the Singapore Courts, and recorded the first ever win for a Singapore law firm in an ICSID arbitration. We continue to shape tomorrow’s arbitration practice through key appointments in prominent organisations, arbitration courts, and thought leadership committees worldwide.
We draw on the expertise and experience of our 60 strong arbitration team to conceptualise and develop effective and innovative strategies that are implemented with the highest standards. Our deep bench has seen us consistently ranked in every international legal journal. Our approach of leaving no stone unturned in our delivery of the best and most cost-effective result at every step of the way continues to secure us mandates in the most complex and cutting-edge of matters. We focus on success beyond winning the arbitration, to procuring meaningful outcomes in terms of efficient enforcement of awards and the preservation of valuable commercial relationships for our clients.
Alvin YEO, Senior Counsel
Chairman & Senior Partner
D +65 6416 8142
E-mail: [email protected]
CHOU Sean Yu
Head – Litigation & Dispute Resolution Group
D +65 6416 8133
E-mail: [email protected]