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Pinsent Masons grows its Financial Services offering in Dubai

Multinational law firm, Pinsent Masons, has appointed Banking & Finance partner Matthew Escritt to lead the firm’s Banking & Finance practice in the Middle East, based in Dubai.

Matthew joins from Norton Rose Fulbright, where he has been for the past 19 years, with the past eight spent as partner in the banking and finance team. During this time he has worked in London, Moscow, Bahrain, Singapore and Dubai.

Matthew is a banking and finance specialist, advising on all areas of structured cross border finance, including syndicated lending acquisition, development finance, asset finance, vendor finance, and structured trade and commodity finance. He is familiar with both conventional and Islamic finance funding structures. He also advises on financial restructuring and insolvency mandates. Based in Dubai, he will be leading the Banking & Finance practice in the Middle East (within the Finance & Projects group) and will focus primarily on clients in the Financial Services sector.

Commenting on Matthew’s appointment, Michael Watson, head of the Finance & Projects group at Pinsent Masons said: “Matthew’s reputation precedes him and we look forward to welcoming him as head of our banking and finance practice in Dubai. His experience and expertise will greatly strengthen the practice, enabling them to deepen relationships with existing clients as well as developing new ones. His appointment is another fantastic addition to our growing international capabilities.”

Alexis Roberts, head of the Financial Services sector at Pinsent Masons added: “Matthew’s appointment is a pivotal one in increasing our financing bench strength and will enable us to better support our clients within the Financial Services sector. His breadth of experience and the clients that he’s worked with will allow us to grow our offering across the sector. We greatly look forward to him joining the team.”

Matthew Escritt, head of Banking and Finance in the Middle East added: “I am excited to have been given the opportunity to lead Pinsent Masons’ Banking & Finance practice in the region and to be part of an international team tasked with growing a strategically important practice area to complement the firm’s existing strengths. It will also ensure that we are able to provide vital, full-service support to our clients as they navigate today’s challenging business environment. Given the diverse talents of the individuals involved and the well-known strengths of the existing practice I am confident that we are well placed to achieve our goals.”

Adding to the growing multinational Finance & Projects group, Matthew’s appointment follows that of Anthony Morton in Frankfurt, James Harris in Asia, Jim Hunwick in Sydney and Eran Chivka in Paris.

Eversheds Sutherland strengthen projects offering in the Middle East

Eversheds Sutherland has appointed project finance lawyer, Ashley Halewood, as a partner in its Projects team in Dubai. Ashley joins the firm from Linklaters’ Energy & Infrastructure team in Dubai.

With nine years’ experience working in the Middle East, Ashley has advised on a number of high profile transactions in the infrastructure, renewables, oil & gas, petrochemicals and power and water (IWP, IWPP and ISTP) sectors across the MENA region.

He has represented sponsors, developers, commercial lenders, Islamic finance institutions, ECAs and multilateral agencies, in all aspects of project financing, including bids, acquisitions and disposals.

Ashley is named as a ‘Rising Star’ by The Legal 500 in the Infrastructure and Projects (including Project Finance) sector.

Keri Rees, Co-Head of Global Company Commercial, Eversheds Sutherland said: “We’re thrilled to welcome Ashley. His appointment builds on our existing offering in the Middle East, enhancing the capability we already offer to our clients through the technical excellence and wealth of experience that he brings. Whilst Middle East focused, Ashley is part of a global team and it’s great to see this develop with Ashley already connected with colleagues in London, Paris, Germany and Asia in particular. Despite these challenging times, having Ashley on board reaffirms our ongoing long term commitment to meeting the needs of our clients and the increasing demand for service excellence.”

Nadim Kayyali, Regional Head of Eversheds Sutherland’s Corporate and Commercial team in the Middle East commented: “Ashley is a superb lawyer, with a proven track record in the region and his appointment reflects the investment in talent that the firm has made in the Middle East over the past couple of years. He brings with him a wealth of technical experience and client relationships which will develop further our existing projects teams in Dubai and across the region in Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan, UAE and KSA. We are committed to the growth of our practice in the Middle East, and supporting the strategic growth and strength of our global projects offering, and it is my pleasure to welcome Ashley to our team.”

Ashley Halewood commented: “I am delighted to be joining such a highly reputable team, building on what is already a strong offering in the Middle East, and a great platform from which to grow and strengthen my relationships with clients. It’s an interesting time to be joining Eversheds Sutherland amid our clients’ obvious concerns around COVID-19 and its impact on, amongst other things, the energy and infrastructure sectors. I look forward to working as part of the team to help find innovative solutions to our clients’ challenges and opportunities.”

Economic Relief For UAE Businesses

The UAE government has introduced certain measures that will offer economic relief to UAE businesses suffering under the strain of COVID-19 ramifications.

Although the United Arab Emirates has not announced any direct relief from tax payment obligations similar to those introduced in KSA, the governments of both the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have introduced financial assistance measures due to the current COVID-19 crisis.

The Emirate of Dubai

In the Emirate of Dubai, the government has introduced the following measures:

  • An AED1,5 billion business stimulation package involving the reduction in fees payable by businesses for three months
  • Dubai Customs introduced the following measures which will be in place from 15 March 2020 till 30 June 2020
  • A refund of 20% of all Customs Duty paid on goods at 5% which have been sold locally
  • The revocation of the AED50,000 cash or bank guarantees required to conduct customs broker activities and the refund of existing guarantees held to these brokers and clearing companies
  • The exemption from berthing fees as well as direct and indirect loading fees for boats that qualify as traditional wooden commercial boats registered in the UAE at either Dubai Creek or Hamriyah Port

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi

In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the government has introduced:

  • With effect from 16 March 2020, a 16 point stimulus plan involving fee exemptions, fine waivers, SME support initiatives
  • An AED 5 billion water and electricity subsidy scheme
  • An AED 3 billion SME credit guarantee programme
  • The establishment of a AED 1 billion market maker fund to sustain a balanced supply and demand balance for stocks
  • The suspension of performance bonds for bidding procedures
  • A 25% reduction on new industrial land leasing fees
  • The waiver of industrial and commercial penalties
  • Cancellation of individual and commercial real estate registration fees
  • The payment of government approved invoices within 15 days
  • The suspension of Tourism and Municipality Fees for the tourism and entertainment sectors for 2020
  • Waiver of performance guarantees for start-ups for projects up till AED 50 million

In addition to the government’s measures the private sector has also stepped up to the plate and numerous of the large property leasing companies have offered reduced and even exemptions from rental payments for commercial tenants that have had to shut down their businesses due to COVID-19.

Various banks, property developers and even utility suppliers have also offered payment holidays and have deferred evictions and legal collections in the light of the current situation in the United Arab Emirates relating to COVID-19.

UAE Courts Postpone All Judicial Hearings

UAE courts in its Resolution No. of 2020 issued on March 17, 2020 concerning the adjournment of judicial hearings and working remotely decided on postponing all judicial hearings for the Court of Cassation, the Court of Appeal, and the First Instance Courts, and suspending testimonies and documentation of personal status from Sunday.

Some exceptions were made in the Resolution to the consideration of cases of temporary and urgent matters, online requests, criminal cases and appeals that include detainees and inmates.

The Resolution called on all court judges to file judgements at their specified sessions during the postponement period.

In a move to maintain the continuity of work, the Resolution activates a trial remote working system with a phased approach.

In the first week, a maximum of 30% of the workforce can work from home. For the second week and thereafter, the management of the courts will continually assess how things are progressing and will allow working from home to apply up to a maximum percentage of staff, which is higher than 30%. The Resolution also notes that it is of paramount importance during the remote working that the privacy and confidentiality of cases is in no way compromised.

The Resolution also specifies that employees from different disciplines and job grades are included in the trial with the possibility that employees exchange system implementation periodically to ensure business continuity in organisational units.

And that work in various sectors is normal and that no services are stopped and to maintain the commitment of the employees to the standards and controls stipulated in the information security system for the Emirate of Dubai and approved by the Dubai Electronic Security Centre, especially the sub-officer, remote entry security.

The Resolution also gives priority in applying the system to pregnant women, the elderly, people of determination and workers who suffer from chronic diseases related to the respiratory system or those that cause immune deficiency.

The Resolution called on all attendees not to visit the courts in person for all claims and requests services that can be submitted and followed up through the electronic and smart systems of courts and on all concerned authorities to follow up the implementation and take the necessary measures as of its date.

New Laws Introduced in Dubai to Support Business

New laws mean any law which becomes operative or effective subsequent to the Effective Date and shall include any City laws, ordinances, resolutions, rules or regulations. This is a key event set to take place in Dubai and will be a major focal point of the agenda of most corporations doing business in the emirate or looking to do business in it.

The emirate remains a main attraction for foreign investments especially the ones looking to benefit from its location, business, and legal environment and world-class infrastructure, to access the region. This was further validated by the United Arab Emirates’ ranking in the ease of doing business, where it was positioned 11th, according to the World Bank annual ratings in 2019.

This accomplishment is a reflection of the government’s ongoing work to promote a business environment that is diverse and sustainable.

A number of efforts have been made to diversify away from dependence on oil, creating a very strong services sector – one that fosters a competitive business environment. A major aspect of such an environment is a supportive and effective legal framework for businesses, on par with international standards, hence the recent changes and additions in UAE’s regulatory and corporate sector.

Among major changes that are expected to push the growth and progress of the local economy in Dubai are the implementation of UAE Federal Law No 19 of 2018 on foreign direct investment and the subsequent positive list of activities issued by the UAE Cabinet.

The FDI Law now allows up to 100% foreign ownership in more than 122 economic activities across 13 sectors including, transport and storage, agriculture, space, manufacturing industry, renewable energy, hospitality and food services, among others.

These sectors will offer new economic opportunities for international investors to explore in the UAE, particularly for projects involving e-commerce logistics, research laboratories, advancement in biotechnology, logistics and supply chain, production of solar panels, hybrid powerplants and green technology.

The refreshed list of privileges for companies established under the new FDI Law are extensive and includes treatment as local companies, as well as the removal of restrictions on repatriation of profits and any proceeds from liquidation or sale of a business.

Employees of FDI companies can now transfer their salaries, indemnities and entitlements outside the UAE. In addition, FDI companies are guaranteed the confidentiality of technical, economic, financial information, including investment initiatives. There are now no restrictions on the sale of a business, admission of new shareholders or change of legal form and structure.

In addition to the FDI Law, the UAE published two major laws in 2016 that will have a direct impact on the creation of a comprehensive legal and regulatory regime for the operations of corporations. These include the UAE Federal Law No. 9 of 2016 on bankruptcy and UAE Federal Law No. 20 of 2016 on the pledge of movable assets as a guarantee for debts.

The Bankruptcy Law deals mainly with the various structures for bankruptcy and liquidation of assets for distressed corporations, including restructuring and composition procedures.

Meanwhile, the Law on Pledge of Movable Assets allows the pledge of certain movable assets by corporations and the establishment of a special register to handle the registration of such pledges in favour of third parties. This law, in particular, is of extreme importance as it gives a lot of flexibility to corporations and allows them to secure proper funds while guaranteeing the financing parties’ rights.

Further and in November 2019, the UAE Cabinet passed a new Federal law No 19 of 2019 on Insolvency of Natural Persons that applies to debtors that are not subject to the Bankruptcy Law.

This new law applies to individuals who are in default of payment or facing difficulties in meeting their financial obligations. it is expected that the Insolvency Law will increase transparency in the dealings between financial institutions and individuals and address situations of defaults in a way that will enable all parties to safeguard their rights.

All of the above laws combined have created an overall framework to regulate the environment under which companies in the United Arab Emirates are operating and have considerably elevated the maturity and complexity of commercial transactions, as well as prospects of new and innovative investments.

This will also complement the efforts that are being pursued on other fronts, such as the development of world-class regulations for the protection of intellectual property rights, fighting cybercrime, promoting fintech initiatives and reinforcing the partnership between free zones and local authorities.

The New DIFC IP Law in The UAE

The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is a special economic zone in Dubai covering 110 ha, established in 2004 and a financial hub for the Middle East, Africa and South Asia markets.

With the help of this new law, we believe the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, has advanced one step more in progressing its regional position as a hub host for e-commerce, e-governance services, knowledge-based economy and strengthen innovation environment.

Dubai has been the centre point in the Middle East to launch many entities that has later becomes international reputation in e-commerce, mobile applications and online web services providers. The very good examples of “Souq.com” marketplace, acquired by Amazon, and “Maktoob” acquired by Yahoo Inc, “Careem” in process of acquisition by Uber, were all established in the UAE.

Because of this unique position, Dubai was the ideal place to hold many routine IP events and meetings for international organisations to promote, discuss and advocate for protection of IP rights and discuss key challenges in this domain within our region.

DIFC, or unofficially known as the Wall Street of the Middle East, was established to be the first district that follows common law system in a civil law country. This area continues to be among the most favourable locations to set up entities of foreign investments, international firms, financial institutes and other western companies that seek presence in the Middle East.

As IP is one of the key areas of law that is evolving rapidly in UAE, both government and private sectors have begun, in the last few years, paying more attention to applicable laws and regulations that assist them to create, protect, own and enforce their exclusivity on intangible assets.

The majority of IP rights in UAE are regulated by Federal laws that were enacted between 1992 and 2002 and were followed by several amendments. To enhance the protection of IP rights within DIFC and keep the speed with international standards of IP laws, the new DIFC IP law introduces clarity on ambiguous or keys issues that are deregulated in the UAE.

In fact, calls were made by professional experts in IP during the past few years to pass a special, developed and enhanced IP piece of regulation in the DIFC that can set out the best practice rules, provide guidance and advanced protection and clarity on IP related inquiries.

Hence, this new law does not come as a surprise to those who have been following the advancement of local regulations in the UAE, rather, it reads as a promising step to expand in the protection of IP rights in the region and sets out a good precedent for legislators to regulate, or amend existing laws, on a wider level.

The new DIFC IP law introduces a new era in IP rights protection within our region. It establishes a well-regarded reference to head for a more internationally satisfying IP legal landscape. Whilst we should wait and see the enforcement of this new law before local courts, we anticipate key interesting provisions to be introduced to regulate classical IP rights models, i.e. patents, trade secrets, industrial designs, trademarks, copyrights and trade names.

For instance, this law should read in harmony with existing federal laws that are applicable in the UAE and does not determine any new and / or alternative registration systems. The law does not establish or introduce any registration systems for IP rights within DIFC nor will replace or overlap with existing registrations acquired from relevant offices at the UAE Ministry of Economy.

On the other hand, it brings an explicit recognition of some new doctrines and principles in the IP field, such as fair use of trademarks and patents, work for hire, parody, classification of economic rights associated with copyrights, factors and advanced measures to determine “well known” trademarks, trade secrets violations and reverse engineering.

Collection Societies is a very interesting topic to see regulated for the first time in an internal law and the new DIFC IP law provides an excellent opportunity for Collection Societies entities to plan and establish its presence in the DIFC. This will help to start the process of enforcement of those delegated copyrights to Collection Societies, bringing this area to a real presence within the UAE.

To those who followed this topic, it has been subject to serious debates, discussions and advocacy efforts in the past 10 years, without any material progress. In light of this new law, the Collection Societies are invited to expand their presence and come to the DIFC to use this new legislative platform for its activities in the region.

Article 41 of the new law sets out some clarity on performance of Collection Societies and restrictions of some activities, such as applying discriminatory licensing or exploitation to copyrighted work of art. Nevertheless, Collection Societies should know that the DIFC court orders are enforceable within the UAE mainland and, in theory, can be expanded to reach other GCC and / or Arab states, based on applicable treaties and conventions.

Sanctions and penalties in this law are also an important chapter, noting promising ranges of fines that are to be imposed, which seem to be more effective in assisting enforcement actions.