Posts Tagged anchor

Petrobas securities class action firmly anchored in The Netherlands. Rotterdam court applying i.a. forum non conveniens under Brussels Ia.

Many thanks to Jeffrey Kleywegt and Robert Van Vugt for re-reporting Stichting Petrobas Compensation Foundation v PetrÓleo Brasilieiro SA – PETROBRAS et al. The case, held in September (judgment in NL and in EN) relates to a Brazilian criminal investigation into alleged bribery schemes within Petrobras, which took place between 2004 and 2014. the Court had to review the jurisdictional issue only at this stage, and confirmed same for much, but not all of the claims.

The Dutch internal bank for Petrobas, Petrobas Global Finance BV and the Dutch subsidiary of Petrobas, Petrobas Oil and Gas BV are the anchor defendants. Jurisdiction against them was easily established of course under Article 4 Brussels Ia.

Issues under discussion, were

Firstly, against the Dutch defendants: Application of the new Article 34 ‘forum non conveniens’ mechanism which I have reported on before re English and Gibraltar courts. At 5.45: defendants request a stay of the proceedings on account of lis pendens, until a final decision has been given in the United States, alternatively Brazil, about claims that are virtually identical to those brought by the Foundation. They additionally argue a stay on case management grounds. However the court finds

with respect to a stay in favour of the US, that

the US courts will not judge on the merits, since there is a class settlement; and that

for the proceedings in which these courts might eventually hold on the merits (particularly in the case of claimants having opted out of the settlement), it is unclear what the further course of these proceedings will be and how long they will continue. For that reason it is also unclear if a judgment in these actions is to be expected at ‘reasonably short notice’: delay of the proceedings is a crucial factor in the Article 34 mechanism.

with respect to a stay in favour of Brasil, that Brazilian courts unlike the Dutch (see below) have ruled and will continue to rule in favour of the case having to go to arbitration, and that such awards might not even be recognisable in The Netherlands (mutatis mutandis, the Anerkennungsprognose of Article 34).

Further, against the non-EU based defendants, this of course takes place under residual Dutch rules, particularly

Firstly Article 7(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism such as it does in Shell. The court here found that exercise of jurisdiction would not be exorbitant, as claimed by Petrobas: most of the claims against the Dutch and non-Dutch defendants are so closely connected as to justify a joint hearing for reasons of efficiency, in order to prevent irreconcilable judgments from being given in the event that the cases were heard and determined separately: a clear echo of course of CJEU authority on Article 8(1). The court also rejects the suggestion that application of the anchor mechanism is abusive.

It considers these issues at 5.11 ff: relevant is inter alia that the Dutch defendants have published incorrect, incomplete, and/or misleading financial information, have on the basis of same during the fraud period issued shares, bonds or securities and in that period have deliberately and wrongly raised expectations among investors. Moreover, at 5:15: Petrobras has itself stated on its website that it has a strategic presence in the Netherlands.

Against two claims ‘involvement’ of the NL-based defendants was not withheld, and jurisdiction denied.

Further, a subsidiary jurisdictional claim for these two rejected claims on the basis of forum necessitatis (article 9 of the Duch CPR) was not withheld: Brazilian authorities are clearly cracking down on fraud and corruption (At 5.25 ff).

Finally  and again for these two remaining claims, are the Netherlands the place where the harmful event occurred (Handlungsort) and /or the place where the damage occurred (Erfolgsort)? Not so, the court held: at 5.22: the Foundation has not stated enough with regard to the involvement of the Dutch defendants in those claims, for the harmful event to be localised in the Netherlands with some sufficient force. As for locus damni and with echos of Universal Music: at 5.24: that the place where the damage has occurred is situated in the Netherlands, cannot be drawn from the mere circumstance that purely financial damage has directly occurred in the Dutch bank accounts of the (allegedly) affected investors – other arguments (see at 5.24) made by the Foundation did not convince.

Finally, an argument was made that the Petrobas arbitration clause contained in its articles of association, rule out recourse to the courts in ordinary. Here, an interesting discussion took place on the relevant language version to be consulted: the Court went for the English one, seeing as this is a text which is intended to be consulted by persons all over the world (at 5.33). The English version of article 58 of the articles of association however is insufficiently clear and specific: there is no designated forum to rule on any disputes covered by the clause. Both under Dutch and Brazilian law, the Court held, giving up the constitutional right of gaining access to the independent national court requires that the clause clearly states that arbitration has been agreed. That clarity is absent: the version consulted by the court read

“Art. 58 -It shall be resolved by means of arbitration [italics added, district court], obeying the rules provided by the Market Arbitration Chamber, the disputes or controversies that involve the Company, its shareholders, the administrators and members of the Fiscal Council, for the purposes of the application of the provision contained in Law n° 6.404, of 1976, in this Articles of Association, in the rules issued by the National Monetary Council, by the Central Bank of Brazil and by the Brazilian
Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as in the other rules applicable to the functioning of the capital market in general, besides the ones contained in the agreements eventually executed by Petrobras with the stock exchange or over-the-counter market entity, accredited by the Brazilian Securities and Exchange Commission, aiming at the adoption of standards of corporate governance established by these entities, and of the respective rules of differentiated practices of corporate governance, as the case may be.”

A very relevant and well argued case – no doubt subject to appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed.2016, Chapter 2, almost in its entirety.

 

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PrivatBank v Kolomoisky and Boholiubov. The High court puts the spotlight on the abuse of the anchor mechanism, on reflexive effect of lis alibi pendens, and on Article 34’s new rule.

In [2018] EWHC 3308 (Ch) PrivatBank v Kolomoisky and Boholiubov et al the High Court has set aside a worldwide freezing order (‘WFO’) granted earlier at the request of Ukraine’s PrivatBank, against Ihor Kolomoisky and Hennadiy Boholiubov – its two former main shareholders.

The case considers a high number of issues to which even a long blog post cannot do justice – I will consider these further in a paper in progress.

The issues to be determined, are

  • First, whether the Bank has a good arguable case (as pleaded in the particulars of claim) that loss of US$1.91 billion plus interest was caused to it by the alleged fraud of the Defendants. For the purposes of these applications, all Defendants do not dispute that there is a good arguable case that US$248 million of loss was caused to the Bank by the pleaded fraud, but they deny any good arguable case of loss in excess of that amount.
  • Second, whether the worldwide freezing orders should be set aside in whole or in part for non-disclosure or misrepresentation, or reduced to or reimposed in a lesser maximum sum than the current maximum sum of US$2.6 billion.
  • Third, whether the Court has jurisdiction over the First and Second Defendants under Article 6.1 Lugano by reason of the claim against the English Defendants as “anchor defendants”. Although the claims as pleaded against the First and Second Defendants and the English Defendants are closely connected, the particular issue is whether the claim against the English Defendants was brought with the sole object of removing the First and Second Defendants from Swiss jurisdiction and so was an abuse of Article 6
  • Fourth, if there is jurisdiction against the First and Second Defendants, whether the claims against them and the English Defendants should be stayed on grounds of lis pendens in Ukraine. This raises separate questions:
    • a) Whether the Court has power to stay proceedings against the First and Second Defendants (where jurisdiction only exists (if at all) under the Lugano Convention) in favour of proceedings in a non-Convention state, namely Ukraine. The First and Second Defendants argue that Article 28 of the Convention, which empowers a Convention State to stay proceedings on grounds of lis pendens in another Convention State, should be applied by analogy (or ‘reflexively’ in favour of proceedings in a non-Convention State.
    • b) Whether the Court should stay proceedings against the English Defendants (who are sued in accordance with Article 4 of the recast Brussels Regulation) in favour of proceedings in Ukraine. The issue here is as to the meaning, effect and application of Article 34 of the Regulation, which as from 10 January 2015 conferred a power on EU States in defined circumstances to stay proceedings in favour of proceedings in a non-Member State (“a third State”).
  • Fifth, to the extent that the Court has power to stay on grounds of lis pendens in Ukraine, whether it should exercise that power given the nature of the proceedings in Ukraine, the degree of connection between the Bank’s claim and Ukraine and the risk of irreconcilable judgments if no stay is granted.
  • Sixth, whether the Court should set aside the permission granted without notice to serve the claim form on the BVI Defendants out of the jurisdiction, or alternatively stay the proceedings against the BVI Defendants on grounds of forum non conveniens.

 

Fancourt J’s judgment implies in essence

First of all, very careful and complete consideration of the Lugano Convention’s anchor defendant mechanism.

(hence also implicating Brussels I Recast case-law, particularly Reisch Montage, Freeport and CDC), but also Sabbagh v Khoury, in which as I noted at the time the Court of Appeal struggles with the precise role for merits review in examining a potential abuse of the anchor defendant mechanism.

One assumes counsel for the defendants did an excellent job in deciphering precedent. This includes Ali Malek QC who is clearly a counsel of choice for international litigation, witness his involvement in other cases, too, this week: on which more soon on the blog.

Kolomoisky and Boholiubov may be sued in England and Wales, despite their Swiss domicile, only if the claims against them and the claims against the English Defendants are so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together, to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings: that is the wording of Article 6.1 of the Lugano Convention, as it is of (now) Article 8(1) Brussels I Recast.

[Note parties, Mr Bogolyubov specifically, earlier in the year in [2018] EWHC 160 (Ch) successfully had applied for a declaration that they were not domiciled in the UK; hence no Article 4 jurisdiction.

As I have pointed out on various occasions (use ‘fraud’ or ‘fraus’ as a search term in the blog’s search box), abuse is not a concept easily caught in statute and given the need for high predictability in the application of the Brussels and Lugano regimes, the CJEU is not finding it easy to provide much instruction.

Justice Fancourt excellently reviews the issues 85 ff and it is best to let those paras speak for their insightful selves. One readers have done so, they will see that at 93, his conclusion is ‘any artificial fulfilment (or apparent fulfilment) of the express requirements of Article 6.1 is impermissible, and this includes a case where the sole object of the claim against the anchor defendant is to remove the foreign defendant from the jurisdiction of domicile. Bringing a hopeless claim is one example of such abuse, but the abuse may be otherwise established by clear evidence. In principle, the fact that there is a good arguable case against the anchor defendant should not prevent a co-defendant from establishing abuse on some other ground, including that the “sole object” of the claim is to provide jurisdiction against a foreign domiciled co-defendant.

Onus of proof of abuse lies on the defendant, and it was met here: the English Defendants serving as anchor, are not considered legitimate targets in their own right. Five reasons for same are listed in para 99 ff: it is clear that a single criterion will not be enough to meet the burden of proof, rather a number if indications will contribute to an overall finding of abuse.

 

Having established that the Switzerland-based defendants ought to be sued there or indeed in the Ukraine, the Court turns to the English defendants’ attempt to have it apply Brussels I Recast’s new Article 34 rule on lis alibi pendens in favour of third States. 

At 129, Justice Fancourt reviews the cases which might potentially be said to be ‘related’ to the English proceedings. At the heart of that analysis lies a defamation claim which (at 144) ‘Although the causes of action in the Ukrainian claim of the First Defendant and the claim of the Bank in the current proceedings are quite different, I am satisfied that there is considerable factual overlap between the allegations made against the Defendants in the Bank’s claim and the allegations published by the Ukrainian journal that the First Defendant seeks to challenge as unfounded and defamatory in the Ukrainian proceedings. The general subject-matter is one and the same: a fraudulent scheme to embezzle huge sums of money from the Bank, orchestrated by the First and Second Defendants and making use of a large number of shell companies, including the English and BVI Defendants, to circulate monies and conceal their whereabouts. Key issues that may have to be determined in each claim will be: whether there was a fraudulent scheme; who set it up and operated it; how did it work; what was its purpose; who benefited from the scheme, and how much money was unlawfully removed from the Bank.’

This analysis presumes, in my view correctly, that the term ‘related’ in the Article 34 rule, is to be interpreted in line with (now) Article 30 Brussels I Recast on related intra-EU actions.

At 145: ‘if the appeal in the defamation proceedings were to fail, or the claims be otherwise disposed of on a limited point of law, any stay granted under Article 34 (or by analogy with it) will be lifted.

Upon reflection, a stay of proceedings in favour of the Ukranaian case, is granted, for the reasons that

  • (the ultimate condition for applying Article 34) a potential eventual judgment in Ukraine on the defamation case is likely to be recognised and enforced in England; this is the so-called [but not so by the High Court 🙂 ] Anerkennungsprognose;
  •  the claim has a high proximity to the Ukraine: the issues raised in common by the defamation claim and the current proceedings are almost exclusively concerned with events in Ukraine; the majority of witnesses will be Ukrainian, and Ukrainian law will apply to decide both sets of proceedings. By contrast, none of the harmful acts complained of occurred in England; the matters in issue have no connection with England at all, and the existence of three English defendants is of no materiality. The proximity of the claim to Ukraine therefore points strongly in favour of a stay.
  • finally, at 158 ff: The Bank nevertheless argues that a stay would be contrary to the proper administration of justice – a core criterion to Article 34. ‘It contends that the current proceedings cry out for determination by a truly independent tribunal. But the Bank does not contend that the Ukrainian court is unable to resolve the issues or that it cannot obtain justice in Ukraine. There is no evidence on the basis of which this court can conclude that the Ukrainian courts would not provide justice to the parties. Similarly, there is no evidence before the court that would justify a conclusion that the Ukrainian judiciary is not independent. The Bank complains about how the First Defendant obtained an interim injunction against the Bank and Hogan Lovells on 15th December 2017, without proper process taking place; but this order was set aside in Ukraine on appeal, demonstrating that justice can be achieved by the Bank.’

Note that at 161 Justice Fancourt emphasises the unfinished character of the stay: ‘The argument against a stay would have greater weight if the stay to be granted under Article 34 (or by reference to its principles) were a once and for all decision, but it is clear that it should not be so confined. Under Article 34.2, these proceedings may be continued at any time when it is appropriate to do so, and so potential prejudice to the Bank in granting a stay is thereby limited. If the appeal in Ukraine is dismissed, or if though successful the claim is disposed of without a judgment on the merits, or if the First Defendant does not properly pursue the claim to judgment, the grounds for a continuing stay are likely to fall away’.

 

Fancourt J also adds obiter that had he accepted jurisdiction against the Switzerland-based defendants on the basis of the anchor mechanism, he would have granted a stay in those proceedings, too, applying the lis alibi pendens rule of Lugano reflexively, despite the absence of an Article 34 mechanism in Lugano. Consideration of this issue is at 114 ff, with of course reference to Ferrexpo. (Although even there this particular point may have been made obiter, as Justice Fancourt himself points out at 123). The suggestion is made that in accepting such reflexive, ex-Lugano effect of the Lugano lis alibi pendens rule, the courts should take instruction from the Article 34 Brussels I-Recast conditions. This is not a straightforward proposition by any means and the debate is far from settled.

 

Finally, jurisdiction against the BVI defendants is dismissed at this time on the basis of forum non conveniens: at 172 and necessarily entangled with the other findings: ‘So far as forum conveniens is concerned, the claim against the First and Second Defendants will not proceed in England. The natural forum for a trial of that claim is Ukraine though, as regards Lugano Convention States, the First and Second Defendants are entitled to be sued in Switzerland. The task of the court in exercising its discretion is to identify the forum in which the case can be suitably tried in the interests of all the parties and for the ends of justice: see Altimo Holdings at [88]. The natural forum is Ukraine, in that all the parties are Ukrainian, almost all the events occurred in Ukraine and Ukrainian law is the governing law. There is no suggestion by any party that they cannot have a fair trial in Ukraine. However, the Bank may not be willing to sue the First and Second Defendants in Ukraine: if it cannot sue them in England it may sue them in Switzerland.

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With PrivatBank v Kolomoisky and Boholiubov we now have a much more reasoned application of Article 34 than the more concise considerations in B.win v Emerald Bay and also interesting additional analysis as compared to Zavarco.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5

 

 

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Petronas Lubricants: Assigned counterclaims fall within the (anchor) forum laboris.

In C-1/17 Petronas Lubricants, the CJEU held end of June, entirely justifiably, that assigned counterclaims may be brought by the employer in the forum chosen by the employee under (now) Article 20 ff Brussels I Recast to bring his claim. In the case at issue, the employer had only obtained the claim by assignment, after the employee had initiated proceedings.

The Court pointed to the rationale underlying Article 22(1), which mirrors all other counterclaim anchor provisions in the Regulation: the sound administration of justice. That the counterclaim is merely assigned, is irrelevant: at 28:  ‘…provided that the choice by the employee of the court having jurisdiction to examine his application is respected, the objective of favouring that employee is achieved and there is no reason to limit the possibility of examining that claim together with a counter-claim within the meaning of Article 20(2)’ (Brussels I, GAVC).

Evidently the counterclaim does have to meet the criteria recently re-emphasised in Kostanjevec.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.3.

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Court of Appeal confirms jurisdiction in Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola.

Update 15 January 2019 see intervening party submission by CORE et al here. The case is being heard this week and will one assumes be relevant for other cases en route, including Samarco.

Update 16 May 2018 Vedanta have been given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

I reviewed the High Court’s decision in Lungowe here. In [2017] EWCA Civ 1528 the Court of Appeal has now confirmed jurisdiction against the non-UK based defendants on largely the same, if slightly more structured and expanded arguments as the High Court.  (Per Owusu, jurisdiction against the UK-based defendant is undeniable; the non-UK defendants need to be joined on the basis of residual English conflicts law).

Ekaterina Aristova has analysis of Simon LJ’s leading judgment here – I am happy to refer. Of particular note is the much more reserved approach of the Court of Appeal on the merits issue of the claim. As I noted in my review of Okpabi v Shell at the High Court, in that case Fraser J looked in serious detail into the issue of merits: not, I believe, justified at the jurisdictional stage. Appeal against Fraser J’s finding will be heard by the Court of Appeal.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

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Lungowe v Vedanta and Konkola. One lb of Owusu and one lb of Chandler v Cape make for a powerful potion.

Here’s the recipe for Lungowe v Vedanta at the High Court.

Obtain one lb of C-291/02 Owusu: European authority: forum non conveniens has no place in the Brussels jurisdictional regime; particularly now in Article 4 of the Brussels I Recast for as Coulson J points out at 57 in his judgment in Lungowe, Articles 33-34 of the Recast Regulation do foresee consideration in the event of parallel proceedings outside of the EU.

Mix with one lb of Chandler v Cape : English authority: parent companies may in circumstances be held liable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries; referred to with approval by the Dutch Courts in Shell.

Have Zambian claimants in a case of environmental pollution employ Article 4 to establish jurisdiction against a holding company established in England. The company is a holding company for a diverse group of base metal and mining companies, including the second defendant, Konkola.

The fact that Vedanta are domiciled in the United Kingdom is, evidently, one of the principal reasons why they have been pursued in these proceedings (see Coulson J’s acknowledgment of same at 76). This is a manifestation of forum shopping which the CJEU has certainly encouraged. Moreover, as Coulson J suggests at 77-78, claimants also wish to pursue Vedanta because they are seen as the real architects of the environmental pollution in this part of Zambia. The argument is that, since it is Vedanta who are making millions of pounds out of the mine, it is Vedanta who should be called to account. On balance, the use of Vedanta as an anchor defendant can hardly be seen as a malicious ‘device’ or an abuse of the anchor defendant mechanism.

On that issue of abuse, reference is made by the High Court to Freeport and to CDC at the CJEU. There is no suggestion of course that either are direct precedent for the anchor defendant mechanism in residual national private international law. (Which is the case here: for the Brussels Recast joinder mechanism in Article 7 most certainly does not apply to defendants domiciled outside of the EU). It is telling therefore that the Court does refer to them here. (And inevitably raises the question whether English Court will continue to do so after Brexit).

Both 20 Essex Street and RPC have further discussion. All in all an uplifting day in the English Courts for corporate social responsibility campaigners.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 8, Headings 8.3.1.1., 8.3.2

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