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Sri Lanka Seeks to Grow Economy – With Help From Baker & McKenzie

Baker & McKenzie’s Hong Kong office was hired by the government of Sri Lanka to advise officials on financial laws in other countries and jurisdictions, the firm confirmed Monday.

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Sri Lanka’s Business Times reported on Aug. 21 that the global legal giant will be paid $2.3 million for 12 weeks of work. Some of that work will involve drafting and revising the country’s IP, real estate, restructuring and tax laws, according to the publication.

“Baker & McKenzie is proud to have been selected by the Sri Lankan government to advise on international aspects of developing the legal infrastructure necessary to build a regional financial hub in Colombo,” the country’s capital, according to a statement from a firm spokesman.

The Sri Lankan government has turned to Baker & McKenzie to advise on financial models that have worked for other countries, said the firm’s statement, which noted that local counsel have also been hired. The Sri Lankan government responded to news reports last week with a statement of its own confirming the hire of Baker & McKenzie, but denying other details mentioned by the Business Times, including the implication that the firm would open an office in Colombo. (The publication’s editor responded saying that they never said that the firm would “practice” in Sri Lanka.)

Baker & McKenzie’s statement confirmed that it had not opened an office in Sri Lanka, but said that its current engagement for the country would be led by its Hong Kong office, with help from lawyers in Dubai and elsewhere.

The government’s statement said that Baker & Mc­Kenzie would be advising the country on “the legal implications of the different financial models,” including those in Dubai, Hong Kong, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.K.’s Channel Islands. The government added that the firm is also advising it on Indonesian tax laws.

Baker & McKenzie’s work for the Sri Lankan government is not the firm’s only project in the island nation, which sits southeast of India in the Indian Ocean. In April, lawyers in the firm’s Singapore and London offices advised Switzerland’s LafargeHolcim Ltd.—a building materials giant formed via a 2015 megamerger—on the $400 million divestment of its interests in Holcim Lanka, a Sri Lankan cement plant, to Thailand’s second-largest cement producer.

Sri Lanka’s current president, Maithripala Sirisena, has been working since his election last year to ensure that his country remains peaceful after a brutal civil war that ended in 2009 and left an estimated 100,000 dead.

A cabinet committee on economic management headed by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremsinghe was established to make recommendations on financial policy that will encourage investment in the country. The Business Times reported that it was this committee that approved the hire of Baker & McKenzie.

“The government’s policy is to make Sri Lanka the hub of the Indian Ocean,” said the government statement, published by the Business Times. “The aim of these efforts is to expand the market for the Sri Lankan products to create 1 million jobs for the Sri Lankans, expand the middle class and revive the rural economy.”

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Addleshaw-Hunton merger talks on ice after Brexit vote

Merger talks between U.S. firm Hunton & Williams and U.K. firm Addleshaw Goddard have stalled following the U.K.’s June vote to leave the European Union.

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Partners at the firms have said that the discussions, which were first reported in May of this year but are understood to have begun at the end of 2015, have slowed down in the wake of the EU referendum in order to assess the impact of Brexit on the U.K.

“The U.S. deal is still ongoing but it has slowed because the dust hasn’t settled on Brexit yet,” an Addleshaw partner said.

The forthcoming U.S. presidential election is also understood to have played a part in the delay.

Nothing has yet been formally put to the partnership at Addleshaw but prior to the Brexit vote, talks between the two firms had progressed to a stage where there was a “sufficient degree of conformity that everyone was comfortable with the basics and the feel culturally,” according to one Addleshaw partner.

A deal between the two would create a firm with combined revenue of around £554 million ($733.14 million) and more than 1,300 lawyers.

Hunton & Williams has 14 offices across the U.S., alongside small international outposts in Brussels, Beijing, Tokyo, London and Bangkok, while Addleshaw has three U.K. offices and international offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, Oman, Qatar and Singapore.

A merger would increase both firms’ coverage with relatively little overlap, as the only duplicate office is in London, where Hunton & Williams has a seven-partner base.

Addleshaw posted revenue of £201.8 million ($267.05 million) for the 2015-16 financial year, up from £192.4 million ($254.61 million) the previous year, while profit per equity partner (PEP) soared by 39 percent to £682,000 ($902,531.52), from £491,000 ($649,769.76).

The firm’s results were boosted by fees paid for mandates from previous years, partly connected to the long-running Berezovsky litigation.

In contrast, Hunton & Williams’ turnover dropped 7 percent to $528 million in 2015, making it the 62nd largest firm by revenue in the U.S. Its PEP stood at $950,000, down 5 percent.

In the past 12 months, Addleshaw has also held merger talks with Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens, but they were called off earlier this year after the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

Addleshaw declined to comment and Hunton & Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

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A&O moves London capital markets head to Hong Kong

Allen & Overy (A&O) is relocating London capital markets partner Stephen Miller to Hong Kong, to lead its Asia capital markets practice.

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When he moves in September, Miller will take on the newly created role of regional practice head.

taiwan skyline

Taiwan probes Mega Financial after U.S. money laundering-related fine

Taiwan is investigating if Mega Financial Holding Co and its banking unit broke local criminal laws in a case that led to U.S. authorities fining the state-controlled group $180 million for anti-money laundering violations.

New York authorities on Friday slapped Mega International Commercial Bank with the fine for violations that included lax attention to risk exposure in Panama, the first time in a decade that a Taiwan-based financial institution has been penalized by U.S. authorities.

The fine is a major embarrassment for the Taiwan government because Mega Financial, whose management has close ties to key government officials, is an industry pillar in the island’s financial system.

The disciplinary action comes as anti-money laundering (AML) controls at banks in Greater China are under intense scrutiny abroad, following a series of high-profile judicial investigations and regulatory probes in the United States and Europe.

Taiwan authorities are examining documents from Mega Financial and its banking unit as part of the investigation, Chang Chieh-chin, deputy head prosecutor with the Taipei District Public Prosecutors Office, told Reuters by telephone.

Chang said prosecutors also are reviewing information from the island’s finance ministry and Financial Supervisory Commission regarding the matter.

“We are gathering information and will review it to see if there has been any violation of criminal law in Taiwan,” Chang said.

The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) said Mega’s U.S. compliance program was a “hollow shell” with insufficient transaction monitoring and reporting controls and inconsistent compliance policies.

The bank’s compliance staff also lacked familiarity with U.S. AML regulations while several were also conflicted because they held multiple roles, the DFS said in a court document.

The DFS found that nearly $11.5 billion of credit transactions took place between Mega’s New York and Panama branches in 2013 and 2014. “The bank’s head office was indifferent toward risks associated with transactions involving Panama,” despite the fact it was recognized as a high risk jurisdiction, the DFS said in a statement.

Shiu Kuang-si, chairman of Mega Financial, defended the bank’s conduct, saying it did not help customers launder money overseas. Mega International Commercial’s New York branch failed to report a “suspect transaction” to U.S. authorities, as required by law, he told Reuters.

Mega’s branch in Colon, Panama, had closed an account by a customer from “Central or South America” because it was deemed a “suspicious account”, he said.

When money was remitted to the shuttered account, the branch rejected and returned the funds to the originating bank, he said. However, under U.S. rules, remittances involving suspicious accounts must be declared to New York financial authorities, which Mega failed to do, he said.

Mega Financial shares slumped 6.3 percent on Monday, after news of the U.S. fine. They were down 0.2 percent on Tuesday.

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Brexit means Brexit … but when?

Leaving the EU may not happen soon given the UK government does not know what it wants and is not yet equipped to ask for it.

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Two months ago on Tuesday, Britain voted to leave the European Union. The shock was immense; the fallout dramatic. But then summer came. The early turbulence subsided and normality (more or less) returned.

Brexit, though, has not yet begun to happen.

The government does not know what it wants and is not yet equipped to ask for it. Britain and the EU, it is increasingly clear, are far more intimately enmeshed than the leave camp had claimed. For all the leavers’ assurances, extricating the UK from the bloc, negotiating new relationships with Europe and the rest of the world – and ensuring that Britain’s laws and practices adapt – is a gargantuan undertaking.

The referendum result, however, is a political reality. The 52% of leave voters – and the politicians who represented them – expect it to be acted upon. So two months on, where does Brexit stand?

The legal challenges

The most immediate obstacle to Brexit is judicial. There is a substantial school of thought which says the government is not constitutionally entitled to pull the trigger on article 50 without the specific approval of parliament.

At least seven private actions have been grouped together and will be heard by the high court starting in October in what judges have said is a “matter of great constitutional importance”, with a decision possible by the end of the year.

Separately, cases have been launched in Northern Ireland arguing that Brexit would breach the Good Friday agreement by reinstating a physical border with the Republic of Ireland and undermining the legal basis for the 1998 peace deal.

So, while we may be two months in, you might want to get used to the waiting. Brexit may not happen quite yet.

Rio De Janeiro

DLA Piper’s Brazil Affiliate Campos Mello Boosts Energy

DLA Piper Brazil affiliate Campos Mello Advogados has added 11 new lawyers, including four new partners, most of whom come from an arm of Mayer Brown.

The attorneys join Campos Mello’s oil and gas, employment and benefits, and judicial recovery practices.

Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado mountain overlooking Rio De Janeiro. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Ten of the 11 attorneys are coming over from Tauil & Chequer Advogados, an affiliate of Mayer Brown in Brazil. The 11th new hire, partner Leandro Rinaldi, has had a solo practice.

The three new partners from Tauil & Chequer are Leonardo Costa, Maurício Tanabe and Sandoval Amui. Costa and Amui, along with associates Fernando Xavier, André Lemos and Anna Carolina Joppert will work in the firm’s energy, oil and gas section. Flavio Luduvice, Daniel Estrela, Loan Reis and Caio Gomes,will work in employment and benefits, along with Tanabe.

“While Tauil & Chequer is a great firm, we were very enthusiastic about the opportunity and challenge to expand CMA’s energy, oil & gas, and employment & benefits offering, with all the support of the great platform of DLA Piper,” the attorneys leaving Tauil & Chequer said in a joint statement.

Mayer Brown said it appreciates the contributions of the departing group and wishes them well in their new endeavors.

“With strong capabilities in the oil and gas sectors, as well as in employment and benefits, our service to Brazilian clients in those areas is unchanged,” said John D. Tuerck, a spokesman for Mayer Brown.

Tauil & Chequer and Mayer Brown announced their affiliation in 2009, noting that the relationship would allow Mayer Brown to offer global clients legal counsel on Brazilian domestic matters governed by Brazilian law, while increasing Tauil & Chequer’s resources for advising clients with respect to investments in Africa, notably Angola, where many of the Brazilian firm’s clients had been active.

DLA Piper and Campos Mello announced their affiliation in 2010, with the firms remaining independent. The firm recently moved from downtown Rio to new office space in southern Rio de Janeiro.

Campos Mello said in a statement that its four new partners bring the firm extensive experience: Amui, who worked for 30 years for Petrobras, focuses his practice on the technical, economic, strategic and legal aspects of the energy business. Costa advises and represents clients in energy, oil and gas projects, mergers and acquisitions and transactions, as well as in international arbitration. Rinaldi, a former professor of bankruptcy law, is a partner in the firm’s insolvency and restructuring practice. Tanabe, a partner in the employment and benefits practice, focuses on labor consultancy and union negotiations.

Campos Mello lost several partners in 2015, including Guido Vinci and Ana Luiza Martins, who departed for Tauil & Chequer and its affiliate Mayer Brown. Vinci and Martins took the bulk of the tax team with them, including four associates, and their departure was accompanied by that of corporate partner Daniella Raigorodsky.

Campos Mello is strengthening nontransactional practice areas, as economic and political turmoil has created a sharp decline in transactional work. It’s a tactic many firms have taken, with several having chosen to prioritize their tax practices.

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EY Legal unveils Americas expansion with key hires

EY launches legal offering in Chile and Argentina.

Big Four accountant expands its legal offering to Chile and Argentina as it hires Norton Rose Fulbright partner in Canada.

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EY set itself a target of expanding to 75 jurisdictions by the end of 2015, but with the addition of Argentina and Chile it now has offices in 73 countries.

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DLA Piper calls time on Indonesia alliance

DLA Piper is ending its relationship with Indonesian firm Ivan Almaida Baely & Firmansyah (IAB&F).

DLA struck up a strategic alliance with the Jakarta-based firm three years ago in a bid step up its presence in the fast-growing economic region.

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The firm said it will continue to work with IAB&F and other Indonesian firms.

Indonesian bar rules prevent international firms from practising local law directly. Before entering into the association with IAB&F, the firm carried out this work from Singapore

A DLA spokesperson said: “Our formal relationship with IAB&F is ending soon. However, we will continue to work with them and other Indonesian firms based on the needs of our clients.”

DLA has been actively involved in Indonesian matters for many years, advising government, state-owned and local enterprises, international companies, financial institutions and funds on a broad range of matters.

In February, Squire Patton Boggs also ended an association with Indonesian firm Melli Darsa & Co and said it had no plan to enter into a new formal relationship with another firm.

However, other international firms continue to pursue a local presence there. This June, Hogan Lovells secured an alliance with local Indonesian outfit Dewi Negara Fachri & Partners, seven months after ending its previous agreement. Meanwhile, in May last year White & Case formed an association with Jakarta firm Witara Cakra Advocates.

Norton Rose Fulbright changed its own Indonesia alliance earlier this year. The firm ended its tie-up with Susandarini & Partners and entered into a new association with local outfit TNB & Partners in January.

hong kong

Sidley Austin HK litigation head moves to Orrick

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has hired Charles Allen as litigation and dispute resolution partner in Hong Kong from Sidley Austin, where he led the firm’s commercial litigation practice.

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Allen’s practice focuses on commercial litigation, arbitration and investigations. He has represented clients on contractual and tortious disputes, as well as regulatory and other investigations. Allen joined Sidley in 2002 from Simmons & Simmons and became a partner in 2007.

Orrick’s global litigation practice includes 450 lawyers, but Allen is the only litigation partner in the Hong Kong office. In February last year, the firm lost litigator Andrew Dale to Ropes & Gray.

brexit

Brexit faces new legal challenge from NI

 

A victims’ campaigner has launched the first legal challenge in Northern Ireland to the UK leaving the European Union.

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Raymond McCord lodged papers at the High Court in Belfast yesterday seeking a judicial review of the British Government’s move towards Brexit

His lawyers claim it would be unlawful to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without Parliament voting on the move.

They also contend it would undermine the UK’s domestic and international treaty obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, and inflict damage on the peace process. With similar legal action under way in England, efforts are being made to secure an initial court hearing in Belfast next week.

Mr McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by the UVF in north Belfast in 1997, is believed to be the first person in Northern Ireland to issue proceedings over Brexit. He is taking the case amid concerns that European peace money that goes towards victims of the Troubles may be discontinued.

The challenge centres on the Government’s response to the June 23 referendum result.

His legal team claim they were not given assurances that Article 50, the mechanism under which the UK begins the formal process of leaving the EU, will not be invoked without first securing a Parliamentary mandate. Any attempt to use Royal Prerogative powers instead cannot be justified, they contend.

Mr McCord’s lawyer Ciaran O’Hare, of McIvor Farrell Solicitors, said his client fears Brexit could impact on his fundamental rights. “As a victim of the most recent conflict in Northern Ireland, Mr McCord is very concerned about the profoundly damaging effect that a unilateral withdrawal of the UK from the EU will have upon the ongoing relative stability in Northern Ireland,” he added.

“He is concerned that any withdrawal would be contrary to the UK’s international law obligations pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement.”

Insisting any notification under Article 50 must be done lawfully and constitutionally, Mr O’Hare described the legal challenge as “an important constitutional case which engages the Northern Irish public interest in a way that no other case has or is likely to for many decades”.