The scale of opportunities—whether deals, projects, developments, or investments—pursued by Morgan Lewis clients in the Middle East and surrounding emerging markets is vast. We continually strive to deepen our services and educational offerings that are important for our clients with inbound and outbound investments in the region.
From our office in Dubai—the leading global center of Islamic finance activity and a thriving regional commercial hub—our lawyers provide a full suite of specialized cross-border and regional corporate, finance, regulatory, and dispute resolution services to clients in a variety of industries. We advise investors and businesses on complex private equity; structured finance and infrastructure projects in the United Arab Emirates and across the region; and on a broad range of investment vehicles, including “first-of-their-kind” Shari’a-compliant financings and products. The office includes lawyers fluent in Arabic and English qualified to practice in civil and common law jurisdictions.
Our Dubai office is led by partner Ayman A. Khaleq. Focusing on structured finance, debt capital markets, and private placement transactions, Ayman is an International Monetary Fund-appointed expert in the field of debt capital markets with a focus on Islamic finance matters. Partner James Knight, a corporate and transactional lawyer with more than 20 years of experience in energy, healthcare, and other industries, splits his time between the firm’s Dubai and Houston offices. Partner Philip Dowsett represents clients from a variety of industries offering assistance with private equity and venture capital matters, complex cross-border mergers and acquisitions, takeovers, divestitures and joint ventures, as well as counseling clients in private investment fund structuring and formation matters.
We continue to build our teams with leaders in the profession. Most recently in Dubai, we welcomed dispute resolution and regulatory partner Rebecca Kelly and international finance partner Tarek El-Assra. With Rebecca’s arrival, Morgan Lewis’s global litigation and arbitration practice expanded to cover more of the Middle East and enhanced our capabilities in numerous sectors. Tarek, who has more than a decade of experience working throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, and Europe handling conventional and Islamic finance including leveraged and acquisition, projects, real estate, asset (aircraft and ships) and restructurings, joined us from another global law firm where he led the global Islamic finance practice.
The Dubai partners joined us to discuss how their team works with other offices in Morgan Lewis’s global network, and how lawyers here tackle the special legal, regulatory, and business challenges affecting clients in this vibrant business hub.
What is the most important business or economic development in the Middle East affecting clients?
This is a high-growth region with multiple economic (e.g. oil prices) and geopolitical factors impacting how we practice as well as the type of trends we are constantly required to identify and react to. In the last few years, for example, we had to adapt to the aftermath of the global financial crisis, which triggered restructuring and refinancing opportunities; the Arab Spring, which attracted capital, hence projects, to Dubai in particular; and the sharp drop in oil prices, which is resulting in dispute settlement opportunities and transactions involving a “flight-to-safety” where clients are seeking to invest in mature markets like the United States and the European Union. In addition, we need to have the resources that can support our international clients and their legal requirements, be it regulatory, transactional, or employment-related.
What key strengths distinguish our team in Dubai and across the region?
Our partners have been based in the region for a number of years—anywhere from eight to 12—giving us unparalleled regional expertise and cultural affinity. We have also been close to our clients through the good and bad; therefore our clients tend to work with us almost exclusively as opposed to going through beauty parades involving multiple law firms whenever a legal need arises. Finally, the fact that we belong to practice groups that are global in nature, as opposed to local or regional, ensures that we are at the forefront of legal developments within our respective practice areas, and as such, we can quickly mobilize the best team for the job wherever the relevant members of such teams are based.
What is the most complex or innovative deal you have worked on recently?
We advised the FWU Group, a financial services firm based in Germany, in connection with a $100 million Sukuk Al-Wakala program (Salam III Islamic bond issue) backed by unit-linked insurance policies written by Atlanticlux Lebensversicherung S.A., Luxembourg—a ‘BBB’-rated multinational insurance provider. This represents the first time an Islamic bond structure has been deployed on top of a block of life insurance contracts. The transaction was the first time an Islamic bond structure had been deployed on top of a block of pre-determined Shari'a-compliant life insurance contracts and the first by a Luxembourg regulated entity. The transaction required careful consideration of Shari'a, insurance, tax, accounting, and securities law requirements. One of the main challenges was to reflect a structure that would achieve the multiple commercial rationales for the deal while ensuring the deal remained Shari’a-compliant at all times. The Sukuk has been assigned an investment grade credit rating of BBB- by Fitch and named 2013 Europe Deal of the Year by Islamic Finance News.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for clients looking to expand their business into the Middle East (or for those in the Middle East looking outward)?
We believe there will be tremendous growth opportunities for our firm within the area of regulatory compliance, including under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the UK Bribery Act since Dubai is the hub for the regional operations of most international companies. In addition, we see tremendous growth opportunities in mergers and acquisitions matters particularly in defensive sectors like healthcare and education; private equity and real estate fund formation assignments; financings by alternative capital providers; structured finance and debt capital markets—both Islamic and conventional; complex litigation and arbitration; as well as out-bound investments into mature markets.
What are the most important regulatory or litigation developments in Dubai and the wider region affecting the outlook for businesses and how do we assist?
Over the course of the last few years there has been an increase in the mandatory requirement for all companies to meet the regulatory requirements both within the jurisdiction and imposed on the entities from extra-territorial application of various acts (such as the FCPA). As far as litigation goes, we have seen an increase in the number of cases dealing with fraud and white collar crime in and around the region.
Morgan Lewis clients, partners, and friends of the firm gathered in Dubai in February for an in-depth conference on global trends and hot topics in the finance and capital markets, M&A, private equity, and legal compliance service areas. In a separate event, we hosted a discussion for women on leadership and success featuring guest speaker Mona Ataya, founder and CEO of Mumzworld, and Morgan Lewis Global Firm Chair Jami McKeon. Learn more about the event in the firm’s press release.
Our lawyers and practices regularly earn top-tier recognition by independent industry observers, including the The Legal 500 EMEA 2015 Guide. Additionally:
Learn more about Morgan Lewis’s Middle East services or reach out to our partners directly.