The saga involves a handful of law firms, a Cayman Islands-based fund, the Kuwaiti government, questions of political intrigue, and many millions of dollars.
An increasingly vitriolic war of words has broken out between the lawyers of a private equity fund and those acting for the Kuwaiti government in a $100 million court matter.
In a case involving Big Law players Baker McKenzie and Crowell & Moring, as well as litigation heavyweight Kobre & Kim and offshore major Ogier, Cayman Islands-headquartered law firm Campbells has accused the Kuwaiti government of “maliciously” suing the defendants in the case for $100 million.
The matter has now reached the Courts of the Cayman Islands.
Baker McKenzie, which is acting for the plaintiffs the Kuwait Ports Authority (KPA) and the Public Institution for Social Security (PIFSS), has asserted that Campbells is engaging in nothing more than a “public relations exercise”.
The story starts in Kuwait with creation of the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL) in 1982. In 2007, investment arm KGL Invest set up the Port Fund, a Cayman Islands-headquartered buyout fund.
In November 2017, the fund sold Clark Global City, a real estate investment in the Philippines, in which two state agencies, the KPA and the PIFSS, were major investors.
The sale proceeds were transferred to the fund’s account at Noor Bank in Dubai, “but then frozen by Dubai authorities because of allegedly suspicious activities, with Kuwait accusing the Port Fund of seeking to divert funds to which KPA and PIFSS were entitled,” according to a statement by Campbells, which is representing three of the four defendants in the case—Mark Williams, Wellspring Capital and KGLI Asia.
Immediately after the sale of the real estate project, Marsha Lazareva and Saeed Dashti, thendirectors of the Port Fund, were arrested in Kuwait on charges, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Lawyers for the fund also argue that when the Kuwaiti authorities continued to pressure the Government of Dubai to release the Clark Funds, the Ruler of Kuwait intervened in the case to declare that the sale proceeds were public funds not belonging to private investors.
The funds were unfrozen in January 2019, with KPA and PIFSS receiving distributions as investors in the fund.
The Kuwaiti authorities then launched legal action against the general partner of the Port Fund—represented by Kobre & Kim—in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands in October 2020, joining Campbells’ three defendant clients.
The defendants unsuccessfully sought to strike out the derivative claims against them on a summary basis, with the judgment being delivered on November 25, 2021. The Kuwait government is now pursuing its claim for $100 million from the fund in the Cayman courts, according to Campbells.
Andrew Pullinger, partner at the Cayman office of Campbells said in a statement: “This is a malicious claim that derives from the Kuwaiti State’s failed attempts to misappropriate the funds from the sale of the Clark Global City [for $496 million].”
“The Kuwaiti authorities have sought [over five years] to besmirch the good name of our clients and that of the Port Fund, despite there being no evidence of any illegal activity.”
Bader El-Jeaan, partner at Meysan Partners in Kuwait, acting as counsel for The Gulf Investment Corporation (GIC), a sovereign wealth fund belonging to six Gulf Cooperation Council governments, and The General Retirement and Social Insurance Authority of Qatar (GRSIA), sought to underline the fact that his clients were not Kuwaiti entities, meaning the dispute was not solely a Kuwaiti matter.
“GIC and GRSIA have demonstrated in their court filings that significant sums were misappropriated from the fund by those who controlled it and their affiliates, including Campbells’ clients, Mark Williams and parties associated with him,” he said.
“[Public relations spin cannot] hide the fact that, for over a year, the manager of The Port Fund tried desperately to avoid disclosing the most basic financial information regarding The Port Fund to its investors, until forced to do so by a Cayman court.
“The citizens of the State of Qatar and the State of Kuwait, whose hard-earned savings were invested in The Port Fund, have a right to know what happened to their investment.”
The KPA and PIFSS are being represented by both Ogier and Baker McKenzie, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Baker McKenzie said in a statement said it was pursuing “the considerable loss and damage [our clients] have suffered at the hands of the Port Fund, the Port Fund’s general partner (Port Link GP), and various individuals and entities associated or connected with it.”
Confirming that the KPA and PIFSS had issued substantive proceedings in the Courts of the Cayman Islands, Baker McKenzie added: “Those courts will in due course, hear and determine the claims which have been made against the defendants, including claims of deliberate breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy and fraud.”
“We trust that the statement [issued will be seen] for what it is, namely part of a public relations exercise.”
Crowell & Moring in Washington DC is representing ex-Port Fund director Lazareva.
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