Macfarlanes and Maitland Chambers secure landmark Libyan judgment

07 April 2020

In a highly-anticipated judgment of Mr Justice Andrew Baker handed down on 25 March 2020, the English Court has resolved the question of who, for English law purposes, is the rightful Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA).

The Court found that Macfarlanes’ client, Dr Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed (Dr Mahmoud) “today stands validly appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the LIA”, and it made a declaration to that effect which is a significant milestone in the recent history of the LIA.   

The LIA is a $65bn sovereign wealth fund with assets across the world. Certain UK assets are subject to a number of receiverships, the first of which was put in place in 2015 as a result of uncertainty about who was the LIA’s chairman with authority to conduct its affairs in England.

The parties challenging Dr Mahmoud’s position were two past chairmen, Abdulmagid Breish and Dr Mosen Derregia, as well as Dr Hussein Mohamed Hussein. 

The Court, in a comprehensive and careful judgment, rejected their challenges to Dr Mahmoud’s legitimacy, which relied on Libyan law arguments concerning the procedure by which Dr Mahmoud was appointed.  

This followed a series of judgments last year in which the Court confirmed that the Government of National Accord (GNA), from which Dr Mahmoud derives his authority, is and has been since 19 April 2017 the executive authority and government of Libya – a position which the Court reaffirmed last week. Those judgments all concerned the “one voice” doctrine under which the English Court follows Her Majesty’s Government’s view as to the status of foreign governments. 

On the basis of its judgments to date, the Court further found that “the matters raised by Mr Breish, Dr Hussein and Dr Derregia do not allow me to say that there is any benefit to be gained for the LIA through keeping the receiverships in place, let alone any benefit…that is likely to outweigh the cost and inconvenience to the LIA of having to deal with the receivers rather than having full control over its assets”.

The question of bringing an end to the receiverships is held over for the time being, pending the decision in the appeal against the judgment on the “one voice” principle - brought by Mr Breish, Dr Hussein and Dr Derregia - and which is listed for April 2020. 

This is a significant judgment which resolves questions of international importance in a dispute which has already lasted over five years.      

Dr Mahmoud was represented by Counsel Christopher Pymont QC and Benjamin John of Maitland Chambers, and a Macfarlanes team led by litigation and dispute resolution partner Simon Nurney alongside partner Jonathan Arr, senior counsel Aalia Datoo, senior solicitor Fred Snowball and solicitor William Fletcher.