EWHC 724 (Comm) ArcelorMittal USA LLC v Essar Steel Limited and others is quite the highlight in worldwide regulatory competition for championing arbitration.
As 20 Essex Street note, Jacobs J refused to vary an earlier worldwide freezing order (WFO), despite the award being foreign, Claimant and Defendant companies being foreign, there being no significant assets within the jurisdiction, and the courts at Mauritius (defendant is Mauritius-incorporated, defendant to the Arbitration Claim, and the debtor under the ICC award) potentially feeling gazumped by their English colleagues.
Of note over and above Essex Street’s analysis is
- the defendants urging the Court on the grounds of comity (no need for the English courts to act at policeman for assets located abroad: at 72, referring to Popplewell J. in Conocophillips China Inc v Greka Energy (International) BV.  EWHC 2733) to resist the call for a WFO. This was rejected (at 81) with the argument ‘I consider that I am entitled to proceed on the basis of the evidence that the Mauritian courts would not regard the WFO as offensive in some way.’; and ‘The WFO does not presently conflict with any order of the Mauritian courts, and this is not a case where the Mauritian courts have refused equivalent relief or where there is evidence that those courts would be likely to do so.’ Jacobs J therefore does consider comity quite carefully.
- the Court’s sense of urgency in what it sees as a case of fraus: At 45:
‘There is no precise definition of what is meant by the phrase “international fraud” found in the case-law, but I do not consider that it is confined to cases where the underlying cause of action is a claim in deceit or a proprietary claim relating to the theft of assets. If there is a strong case of serious wrongdoing comprising conduct on a large or repeated scale whereby a company, or the group of which it is a member, is acting in a manner prejudicial to its creditors, and in bad faith, then I see no reason why the English court should not be willing to intervene rather than to stand by and allow the conduct to continue and, to put the matter colloquially, to let the wrongdoer get away with it. In the present case, I would regard the attempted dissipation of Essar Steel’s US$ 1.5 billion asset, in the face of the commencement of arbitration proceedings, as sufficient in itself potentially to warrant intervention under the “international fraud” exception, or as constituting “exceptional circumstances”.’
- and the rejection at 73 of a CJEU C-391/95 Van Uden type of restraint, requiring a real connecting link between the subject matter of the measures sought and the territorial jurisdiction of the English court.