legal disputes

Of all the colonial legacies left by Britain, France and the Netherlands in Asia, one of the least talked-about – yet arguably one of the most lasting and problematic – is the patchwork of legal systems that divides the region.

Doing business in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is gradually getting easier thanks to the elimination of tariff barriers, expansion of supply chains and gradual harmonisation of customs procedures.

Yet one of the big “soft” barriers to greater Asean integration, and one which makes life hard for multinationals and ambitious local companies alike, are the differing jurisdictions across the 10-member bloc. Read more

By Mohan Pillay, Pinsent Masons

A quiet revolution is taking place in commercial litigation. Global businesses, organs of state and wealthy families – concerned by the havoc that the twists and turns of public litigation can inflict upon their reputation or share price – are increasingly turning to a more discreet way to resolve their disputes.

International arbitration – a process that uses a private tribunal composed of global legal cognoscenti agreed by both parties – is becoming more popular. Recent research carried out by Pinsent Masons has found that almost all of the major centres of international arbitration have reported an increase in the number of cases lodged during the past year. Read more

A further twist in the tumultuous case of Vodafone and the Indian tax authority.

After deciding to scrap conciliation talks with Vodafone India just two weeks ago, the Indian government has put the offer back on the table – just as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making noise about resolving these kinds of conflicts if it comes to power following this year’s general election.

It is just the latest in a protracted $2.6bn dispute over capital gains taxes allegedly due in connection with Vodafone’s acquisition of Hutchison Essar back in 2007. Read more

He lives in a property modelled on the White House. He had his company’s name emblazoned on the shirts of India’s beloved cricket team. And his group owns some of the world’s most prestigious properties, including London’s Grosvenor House.

Subrata Roy, head of Sahara India Pariwar, an unlisted hotel to sugar conglomerate, doesn’t jump at anyone’s demand. Or so he thought. Read more

Nokia, the Finnish telecoms group, asked the Delhi High Court on Thursday to release factory assets frozen by tax authorities this year, as it prepares to hand its mobile devices unit to Microsoft.

Back in September Microsoft announced plans to buy the loss-making business from cash-strapped Nokia for €5.4bn. But in India, the deal faces a small complication: a $321m tax dispute in which Nokia’s local assets were frozen. Bank accounts have subsequently been released but fixed assets – including a factory in Chennai – remain stuck in limbo. Read more

Ukraine stands a chance to achieve much more than a pivotal westward shift away from Moscow’s grip by signing historic association and free trade agreements with the EU at a Vilnius-based summit in late November.

In setting course for EU convergence, it could rise up on the global investment radar, portraying itself as following Poland’s economic success, and in turn luring in much needed FDI. At least, that’s the theory. Read more

William Pinckney, chief executive of Amway India, the country’s biggest direct selling consumer goods business by sales, was released on bail on Tuesday evening after his arrest along with two fellow directors. Business leaders have been dismayed by the episode, saying it will damage investment and confidence.

It’s an odd tale that says much about the unpredictability of India’s police forces. What lies beneath is even more perplexing: the way a business regarded as entirely legitimate in the west may be viewed as an illegal pyramid scheme under Indian law. Read more

Thursday’s Kiobel v Royal Dutch Shell ruling by the US Supreme Court provides much-needed clarification about the scope of an obscure US law utilised by a growing number of claimants from emerging economies.

The Kiobel case alleged that Shell was complicit in human rights abuses committed in Nigeria in the late 1990s, when activists protesting against the oil industry were hanged by the government. The case was unusual in seeking redress in US courts for a case involving a non-US company and non-US claimants for a crime committed in a non-US jurisdiction. How is this possible? Read more

By Sudip Chaudhuri of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta

India’s Supreme Court has denied Novartis a patent for a cancer drug. Novartis is upset that the judgement will adversely affect innovation.

In this case, the judgement is based upon a simple but powerful idea – and other countries could follow suit. Read more

In this photograph taken on October 20, 2010 drugs are displayed at a chemist's shop in Mumbai.India’s lawyers will be licking their lips. Just days after the Supreme Court denied the multinational pharmaceuticals group, Novartis, patent protection for its cancer drug, the country’s judges have another case on their hands.

Merck Sharp and Dohme, better known as MSD, has filed a case with Delhi’s High Court claiming that Glenmark, the Mumbai-listed pharmaceutical company, is violating patents on its diabetes drugs, Januvia and Janumet. And in an unusual move – as domestic pharmas rarely take one another on in India – Sun Pharma, has joined the proceedings as a co-plaintiff. Read more

A Dutch court ruled on Wednesday that a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary, SPDC, was partly responsible for oil pollution in the Niger Delta, but rejected four of the five charges against the Anglo-Dutch group.

It looks like a victory for multinationals trying to limit their exposure to legal claims in far-off countries, and a setback for emerging market activists attempting to bring foreign parent companies to book. Read more

By Naguib Sawiris

Most governments in North Africa acknowledge the role of foreign direct investment in relieving poverty and encouraging economic growth – and in helping countries to respond to the challenges raised by the recent political upheavals in the region.

This is why the behaviour of the Algerian government, in threatening to rip up legal commercial agreements and investment treaties and in targeting one of the country’s largest foreign investors with a campaign of harassment and interference, is so damaging. Its actions could have a devastating impact on the business climate in Algeria and cast a shadow over the investment prospects for the whole region. Read more

Three legal challenges against Shell for pollution charges in the Niger Delta could set precedents for how multinational companies are sued for environmental damages in developing countries. All three inquiries – in the UK, the Netherlands and the US – are being judged in countries other than the one in which damages are said to have occurred.

Shell’s trial in the Netherlands, for which evidence was submitted last week, is thought to be the first time a Dutch company has been brought before a home court to answer charges of environmental damage caused abroad. Read more

By Michael Peel

Alcoa’s settlement of a landmark US lawsuit brought by Bahrain’s state-controlled aluminium company over alleged corruption is a deal that will reverberate around the Gulf – and far beyond the metals industry.

The agreement announced on Tuesday – under which Alcoa will pay Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) $85m – has thrown a fresh spotlight on the commission payments at the heart of a growing number of probes into western multinationals operating in the Middle East. It has also opened the way for other companies to come to The US courts with claims that they have been ripped off by western multinationals involved in bribery. Read more

Costco Wholesale, the US retail giant, has sparked ire in South Korea after opening its outlets in Seoul on two Sundays last month, defying local regulations imposing mandatory closure on big supermarkets for two days a month.

Civic groups already held a big rally in front of one of the retailer’s outlets in Seoul last week, protesting Costco’s flouting of the city’s ordinance to close every other Sunday. They plan to hold frequent demonstrations until the company abides by the controversial regulations restricting their operating hours. Read more

By William Scott-Gall of Kroll

As the judgement in the Boris Berezovsky vs. Roman Abramovich case at London’s Commercial Court has shown (with victory for Abramovich) silent partnerships based on oral agreements can lead to unintended financial and reputational consequences. Abramovich may have won, but he has been forced to disclose uncomfortable details about his business practices, and investors have learnt of the extent to which business in Russia is reliant on krysha or protection. Read more

Roman Abramovich has been declared the winner in his epic British High Court battle with rival oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

But Berezovsky is far from being the only loser. Russian business has suffered another damaging assault on its reputation. By shining a light on the ugly inner workings of Russian capitalism in the 1990s, the trial will serve as a warning to investors doing deals with oligarchs – beware of the past, it may come back and bite you. Read more

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich on Friday won his $6.5bn UK court battle against rival oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Berezovsky claimed Abramovich betrayed him and bullied him into selling shares in the Sibneft oil company for a fraction of their true value. But the judge rejected his claims of breach of trust and breach of contract. Abramovich denied being Berezovsky’s business partner and breaching any contract with him.

The extraordinary case of Zack Shahin, the ex-chief executive of Deyaar, a Dubai-based real estate company, took a dark turn this week after reports emerged that he had fled to Yemen whilst on bail and was re-arrested there.

“Shahin is still being detained by the security apparatus,” a Yemeni security source, who declined to be named, told Reuters on Sunday. “We expect that the man will be deported to the UAE before the end of the week.”

Shahin was caught up in a corruption investigation that swept across state-linked developers and financial companies before Dubai’s real estate boom imploded. He was released from prison on July 12 after three years of inconclusive trials. Read more

Veritas strikes again. The Canadian investment research firm – known for its scathing criticism of major Indian companies like Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications – has accused real-estate and power group IndiaBulls of poor corporate governance and irregularities in its accounting and financial practices.

The Toronto-based firm released a report last week – titled “Bilking India” – that alleged “select insiders” rather than public shareholders of IndiaBulls benefited from mergers of the group’s infrastructure and power subsidiaries. Read more