Posts Tagged Brussels

Punjab National Bank. In a complex set of claims, Owusu is never easily applied and material non-disclosure severely punished by the High Court.

In [2019] EWHC 3495 (Ch) Punjabi National Bank v Ravi Srnivasan et al three loan transactions lie at the core of the case. They were made between 29th March 2011 and 1st December 2014, and totaled some US$45 million. They were made for the purposes of oil re-refining and wind energy generating projects in the USA. Most defendants are all allegedly guarantors domiciled either in India or the USA. The borrowers themselves, with the exception of two defendants, both ex-EU, are not party to the proceedings because they are insolvent.

Proceedings concern both the enforcement of the loans but also allegations of fraud, and have also been started in the US and in India however these were not disclosed to the court at the time the original permission was sought to serve out of jurisdiction.

At first glimpse the case might be easily held, along the lines suggested by lead counsel for claimant: at 5 (iii). ‘A combination of the exclusive jurisdiction clauses and the strongly arguable claims in fraud pointed towards the need to try the whole matter in one jurisdiction. England was the only possible jurisdiction. The omission to disclose the US proceedings and the Chennai proceedings caused the defendants no prejudice as they knew from the loan documentation that PNB was at liberty to bring parallel enforcement proceedings in different jurisdictions. The Chief Master ought to have placed strong reliance on articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements (the “Hague Convention”), and article 25 of The Recast Brussels Regulation (“Brussels Recast”), which obliged the court to accept jurisdiction where there were such exclusive jurisdiction clauses.’

Owusu v Jackson would suggest no entertainment at all of forum non conveniens. However the fraud allegations initially opened the door to a point of entry for forum non seeing as none of the defendants are EU based. Sir Geoffrey Vos at 63 lists the relevant factors: ‘the most important being the choice of jurisdiction clauses in both loan agreements and guarantees, the effect of Brussels Recast and the Hague Convention, the fact that some parallel proceedings can be necessary where enforcement against real property is required, and the centre of gravity of the lending relationship which was indeed in London. In addition, the US and Chennai proceedings did not cover the Pesco loans at all, so that disallowing English jurisdiction for those contractual claims prevented PNB from bringing proceedings in its main chosen jurisdiction in respect of that lending and the guarantees given in respect of it.’

In the end however Vos agreed with the initial assessment of the High Court which emphasised non-disclosure (undoubtedly an example of procedural fraus): notwithstanding England being the most appropriate forum for those contractual claims without clear choice of court, and without a doubt the English jurisdiction guarantees of the other loans, but also for the fraud claims, had they been (which they were not) seriously arguable as presently pleaded, (at 72) jurisdiction must be dismissed in light of the need to protect the administration of justice and uphold the public interest in requiring full and fair disclosure.

That is a strict approach in light of the choice of court made and an awkward way around the forceful nature of Article 25 Brussels Ia. An outcome of my discussion with Andrew Dickinson and Alex Layton, is (per Alex’ suggestion) that the High Court seems to have applied an Elefteria approach to choice of court rather than Article 25 BIa.

Geert.

 

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The Brussels Court of Appeal on joinders in the Lugano Convention (in Re Fifa /UEFA arbitration clause).

Thank you Quentin Declève and co-authors for reporting a short while back the Brussels Court of Appeal judgment in RFC Seraing and Doyen Sports v Belgian FA /FIFA /UEFA. (Judgment may be consulted here – I also have a copy). The case in substance concerns FIFA /UEFA’s TPO, Third Party Ownership rules.

Quentin first of all reports on the reasons for the Court to find the arbitration clause between the club and UEFA /FIFA not to be binding. The judgment does not contain copy of the clause (lest I have entirely missed it – but I don’t think so). The clause would not seem to have had a specific lex causae identified: the Court of Appeal uses a mix of Belgian law and New York Convention arguments to rule it invalid.

As we are on the subject of validity of arbitration clauses: please refer to Quentin’s reporting of the Belgian Court’s Supreme Court’s confirmation of validity of NATO’s arbitration clause.

For current blog however I would like to report the findings on the anchor defendant mechanism (19 ff): the Court of Appeal applies Article 6(1) Lugano (UEFA and FIFA are Swiss domiciled), which is the same anchor mechanism as Article 8(1) Brussels I Recast: the anchor defendant being the Belgian Football Association. Freeport and Reisch Montage as well as CDC feature heavily in the Court’s analysis. FIFA and UEFA’s claim is that the Belgian FA is abusively being used as an anchor defendant. The court disagrees: FIFA and the Belgian FA share regulatory powers; the FA is empowered by FIFA statute to impose additional regulations.  The FA’s presence in the proceedings is entirely justified and not artificially constructed.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European Private International Law. 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12, Heading 2.2.12.1.

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