GAR 100 - 15th Edition

Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick

Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick

Professional notice

Led Kazakhstan to a significant win in the Belgian courts

Pending cases as counsel13
Value of pending counsel workUS$758 million
Treaty cases as counsel1
Third-party funded cases0
Current arbitrator appointments5 (2 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator2

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, leaving 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 in the Belgian courts of 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.

In 2019, there was 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 arbitration and dispute resolution practice is now led by Arnaud Nuyts, who has been at the firm for almost three decades. He works alongside partners Aimery De Schoutheete and Roel Francis in the arbitration team.

Network

Although the arbitration team is based in Brussels, Liedekerke has an office in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which opened in 2015, and another in London.

Although it has no base in the Middle East, the firm often acts in disputes involving parties across the region.

Who uses it?

The firm’s state clients include Belgium, Burundi and the DRC, whose national mining company Gécamines regularly uses it for commercial arbitrations. Kazakhstan is another high-profile client.

In addition to the Yukos shareholders, its private clients include Lebanon’s Consolidated Contractors Company, Emirati logistics company DP World and Belgian export credit agency Credendo.

Track record

The firm succeeded in lifting attachments on more than US$22 billion in assets owned by a Kazakhstan sovereign wealth fund in 2018. The assets had been frozen at the request of Moldovan creditors Anatolie and Gabriel Stati in their long-running quest to enforce a US$520 million Energy Charter Treaty award. 

Together with Foley Hoag, the firm helped Belgium see off a €1 billion ICSID claim brought by a Chinese shareholder in financial services group Fortis, 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.

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.

Recent events

Liedekerke secured another win for Kazakhstan in its sprawling dispute with the Statis. The Brussels Court of Appeal ruled that the US$545 million award the Statis hold against the state was obtained by fraud and therefore cannot be enforced in that jurisdiction. Kazakhstan hailed the ruling as a vindication in its bitter fight with the Moldovan creditors. The Statis deny having committed any fraud.

Finnish businessman Mohamed Bahgat turned to Liedekerke to help attach money paid by Egypt to Brussels-based international air safety body Eurocontrol. Bahgat had been seeking to enforce a US$120 million award against Egypt over the loss of his metal investments. The parties reached a settlement in December 2021.

Nuyts, alongside a team from Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, helped logistics group DP World to a win on liability in an ICSID claim against Belgium over its shareholding in a container terminal in the Port of Antewerp. A tribunal majority held that the repossession of land at the concession amounted to partial expropriation. The proceeding is now in the quantum phase, with reports that Belgium could be on the hook for as much as €150 million.

At the ICC, the firm is acting for an international construction company in a Geneva-seated arbitration relating to a major oil and gas project in Qatar, and a UAE-based pharmaceutical distribution company in a London-based case with a Russian manufacturer.

Liedekerke continues representing regular client Gécamines in a Paris-seated ICC arbitration concerning the mining company’s role as a minority shareholder in a joint venture with a foreign investor to operate ore and cobalt deposits in the DRC.

Client comment

A state client says the firm is “exceptional”, with Nuyts, in particular, excellent at dealing with complicated matters. Senior associates Bruno Hardy and Esther Lanotte and associate Louis Hollander are also praised for their work on a case complicated by communication barriers.

Fady Khayat, president and CEO of UAE healthcare company Panchrest, which Liedekerke represented in a contractual dispute with a Russian healthcare company, says Nuyts is “strategic, academic, experienced [and] cool”. Associate Julien Degroof is “very smart, can recall every minute detail and is great at contextualising the issue at hand”.

Sevag Panossian, general counsel at Greece’s Consolidated Contractors Company, says it is “always easy to coordinate” with the Liedekerke lawyers and to “have them understand our company’s needs and perspectives”.

Liedekerke is one of the largest independent full-service business law firms in Belgium. Based in Brussels, with a London representative office, it is also present in Africa through its offices in Kinshasa (DRC) and in Kigali (Rwanda).

With over 130 lawyers, including 31 partners, Liedekerke is recognised for its ability to quickly mobilise competent, flexible and multidisciplinary teams anywhere.

Dedication to International Disputes

Our International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution Practice focuses on high-stake, multi-jurisdictional disputes.

The team represents clients in international arbitration proceedings governed by a wide range of applicable laws, from both the civil and common law traditions.

Our lawyers have also been involved in some of the largest multi-jurisdiction enforcement proceedings in Belgium and abroad. They regularly provide assistance in foreign court proceedings, including in the UK, France, Canada, Greece and Lebanon. The team is recognized for its expertise in the coordination of cross-border proceedings.

Our clients are national and foreign multinational companies, active in various sectors including distribution, manufacturing, construction, logistics, agribusiness, mining, oil and gas, food, and the media industry. We also regularly represent international organisations, sovereign States and state entities.

Regional Expertise: Francophone Africa and the Middle East

Beyond Europe, Liedekerke has an in-depth knowledge of the francophone Africa and the Great Lakes Region as well as the Middle East and handles arbitrations for various companies and governments in these regions. In particular, the team handles mining arbitrations in francophone Africa and assists clients in large engineering and construction disputes in the Middle East. We also represent clients in distribution and post-acquisition disputes.

Our lawyers have expertise in the local laws, including OHADA, the laws of the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, and the laws of Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.

Languages spoken

French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, German, Arabic.

Website: www.liedekerke.com

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