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Major UK firms have sent high-profile delegations to Malaysia as the market considers allowing foreign firms to practise.
The Lawyer understands that Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Norton Rose and Trowers & Hamlins are among firms that have just returned from meetings with high-level local representatives in Kuala Lumpur.
Certain elements in the Malaysian government are considering easing rules concerning the operation of international firms so they would be able to specifically practise Islamic finance.
This comes as Kuala Lumpur seeks to compete with other rising centres for sharia-compliant financing, including Bahrain, Dubai and London.
The UK firms attended the Global Islamic Finance Forum, an event that seeks to develop Malaysia as an international hub for the discipline. A partner from one of the UK firms said Malaysia would be next on his firm’s international hit list.
“At the moment foreign firms aren’t permitted to practise [in Malaysia], but it’s something we’d look at quite seriously,” he said.
“The central bank and the government want [liberalisation], but the Bar Council doesn’t.”
Liberalisation has been a hot topic in Malaysia since last April, when the central bank proposed giving licences to international firms to practise Islamic finance.
But the chances of seeing a rush of firm launches in Kuala Lumpur without wider liberalisation are slim. A number of partners at international firms have said that opening just to practise Islamic finance is not viable.