Posts Tagged JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov

LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al. High Court suggests autonomous EU approach to asymmetric choice of court. Also discusses contract and tort distinction, and abuse of process.

In [2019] EWHC 1747 (Comm) LIC Telecommunications et al v VTB Capital et al Moulder J suggests an unorthodox interpretations of Article 25 of the Brussels Ia Regulation. (Note also her very critical view at 22 of one of the experts, whom she found having confused his role as expert with a role as advocate). Much of the lengthy judgment is devoted to intricate discussions of Luxembourgish corporate law (hence the need for expert evidence) and the jurisdictional issues are, somewhat illogically, discussed towards the end of the judgment, at 245 ff.

Maze, one of the defendants, acts as a manager of V2 pursuant to a directorship agreement dated 26 May 2015 (the “Directorship Agreement”). It relies on the effect of clause 19 of the Directorship Agreement and submitted that claims against it are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg pursuant to Article 25 Brussels Ia. Clause 19 provides: 

“for the benefit of the Manager, the Shareholder and the Company hereby irrevocably, specially and expressly agree that the courts of Luxembourg city have jurisdiction to settle any disputes in connection with this Agreement and accordingly submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of Luxembourg city. Nothing in this clause limits however the rights of the Manager to bring proceedings against the Company in connection with this Agreement in any other court of competent jurisdiction or concurrently in more than one jurisdiction.”

The clause is asymmetric aka hybrid aka unilateral. (See e.g. my discussion of Rothschild etc.). These clauses as I have noted elsewhere highlight the clear insufficiency of Brussels Ia’s new lex fori prorogati (including renvoi) rule for choice of court. Which court has been prorogated, hence also lex fori prorogati, is not clear when the clause is asymmetric.

Moulder J discusses [2017] EWHC 161 (Comm) Commerzbank v Liquimar Tankers as precedent: I reviewed it here and signalled at the time that it would not be the last we would hear of the issue. In that case Cranston J held ‘There is nothing in Article 25 that a valid jurisdiction agreement has to exclude any courts, in particular non EU Courts. Article 17, penultimate paragraph, of the Brussels Convention recognised asymmetric jurisdiction clauses. To my mind it would need a strong indication that Brussels 1 Recast somehow renders what is a regular feature of financial documentation in the EU ineffective.‘ I was never taken by that conclusion viz the Brussels Convention: its Article 17 reference to a party having ‘benefit’ from choice of court does not relate entirely to the same discussion on asymmetric clauses (Peralla v Codere [2016] EWHC 1182 (Comm) which I discussed here illustrates that difference).

At any rate I disagree with Moulder J’s statement at 254 that

It is now common ground that it is a question of autonomous EU law and not a question of national law. (It was I believe accepted that the proviso “unless the agreement is null and void as to its substantive validity” refers to issues such as capacity, fraud and mistake, not whether particular kinds of “choice of court” agreements are permitted under the Regulation).

Asymmetric clauses are the first example often given when highlighting the limited cover of Article 25 Brussels I a (and the need for certainty on the lex causae for choice of court). There is no autonomous interpretation there at all. I do agree however with the conclusion at 261: that Luxembourg courts, applying EU law, would not uphold such clauses was not made out on the evidence. Luxembourgish courts at least when they apply Luxembourgish law, generally uphold the validity of asymmetric choice of court.

At 263 ff then follows discussion of Article 7(1) and 7(2). Much of the authority discussed has been reviewed on this blog. (Including Bosworth (Arcadia) which in the meantime has been held by the CJEU but without the contract /tort element – the CJEU found against a contract of employment). Moulder J holds that Article 7(2) is engaged, not 7(1), and on the former discusses locus delicti commissi with reference to JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. At 295: it is not sufficient that there are meetings in England to implement the conspiracy, it is the making of the agreement in England which is to be regarded as the harmful event.  Claimants have not supplied a plausible evidential basis that the agreement was made in England. Their evidence is consistent with a case that the conspiracy was implemented in England but that is not sufficient.

As for locus damni, at 298: Even though the share purchase agreement was under English law, it is the loss of the shares in the Luxembourg company which is the pleaded damage not the agreement to sell or the auction. The Vivacom group consists of Bulgarian telecommunications companies which were held by InterV through Viva Luxembourg Bulgaria EOOD (paragraph 3 of the Agreed List of Agreed Issues). Locus damni is Bulgaria, perhaps Luxembourg. But not England.

Finally, abuse of process considerations are linked to English procedural law (whether claims should have been brought sooner).

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.9, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.11.2 .

 

 

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JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov. UK Supreme Court confirms the conspiracy itself, not its implementation, as locus delicti commissi under Lugano. Does not entertain locus damni.

The UK Supreme Court held in [2018] UKSC 19 JSC BTA Bank v Khrapunov late March. Defendant is based in Switzerland, hence triggering the Lugano Convention. Addleshaw Goddard have the history of the case and I am happy to refer for those facts. Suffice to say that at the core is a claim in tort of conspiracy, alleging that Mr Khrapunov and his father in-law Mr Ablyazov conspired to injure the Bank by preventing it from enforcing its judgments against Mr Ablyazov’s assets.

First let’s have a look at was not discussed at the SC: domicile and locus damni. As for the former, domicile once held but now fleed from was correctly rejected by Teare J as establishing domicile under Lugano (or indeed Brussels). The argument that jurisdiction should, nevertheless, be taken still to be domiciled in England because defendant was in breach of an obligation under the worldwide freezing order prohibiting him from leaving the jurisdiction, was likewise rejected. An interesting proposition though.

Now, for the location of the locus damni. At 29 the SC refers to the Bank’s argument at the High Court and Court of Appeal stage. The Bank’s argument was that the damage occurred in England. This was based on the contention that its worldwide freezing order and its judgments against Mr Ablyazov were located here and had been reduced in value by the alleged conduct in relation to assets in other jurisdictions. The High Court and Court of Appeal considered that the element of damage proximate to the harmful event was the Bank’s inability or reduced ability to execute against those assets in the places where they were located.  Another fine example of the difficult implications of Bier and not one which the CJEU has hitherto had the occasion to review. (But current case will not reach it).

As for locus delicti commissi, the Bank submit that the event giving rise to the damage was the conspiracy itself, which was hatched in England. At the High Court Teare J rejected this submission, because he considered that the cause of the damage was not the conspiracy but its implementation: a suggestion I like in the context of competition law, as readers of the blog will be aware. Teare J was not followed by the Court of Appeal though, which identified the place where the conspiratorial agreement was made as the place of the event which gives rise to and is at the origin of the damage.

The SC refers to CJEU authority to conclude with CDC and at 41 it reiterates the CA’s core reasoning: ‘As Sales LJ explained (at para 76), in entering into the agreement Mr Khrapunov would have encouraged and procured the commission of unlawful acts by agreeing to help Mr Ablyazov to carry the scheme into effect. Thereafter, Mr Khrapunov’s alleged dealing with assets the subject of the freezing and receivership orders would have been undertaken pursuant to and in implementation of that agreement, whether or not he was acting on instructions from Mr Ablyazov.’

The Supreme Court concludes that the making of the agreement in England should be regarded as the harmful event which set the tort in motion. 

The judgment keeps open many issues, however. For starters, to have a sole birthplace of conspiratorial agreement is handy in the case at issue however it is likely not often to be so clearly the case (as Dan and Tom point out, particularly not in a digital context). Moreover, for those instances where Mr Khrapunov were not to be acting on instructions from Mr Ablyazov, questions of ultra vires so to speak and hence of a separate tort would arise.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2

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