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Denton Wilde Sapte has admitted to being deeply concerned about its Uzbekistan office after the attack on the World Trade Center.
US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said that the prime suspect in the attack, Osama Bin Laden, has support from a movement within Uzbekistan. That country has emerged as a potential US ally, but it is feared that any US assault on Afghanistan could ricochet to Uzbekistan. And Afghanistan's ruling Taliban has threatened to retaliate against any neighbours that help the US. Asked if the firm has a solution for the worst-case scenario this situation could bring, Dentons international managing partner David Moroney replied: "We'd be prepared for whatever the situation may bring. We are concerned, as the political situation is so uncertain. We'll definitely be keeping a low profile in Tashkent." Dentons is one of only two Western law firms in the region, the other being Gouldens. The political uncertainty in the republic's capital Tashkent will probably stop a planned wave of Uzbekistan privatisations. These, admitted Moroney, would probably have provided a valuable revenue stream to the Tashkent office. "As the economy hasn't been good for a while, we were hoping for some reasonably-sized projects in Tashkent, but now we'll have to wait and see," he said. James Campbell, a Gouldens partner who spends his time between the firm's offices in London and Almaty in Kazakhstan, admitted: "I don't think any law firms in the region have seen new clients for the last 18 months. The economic situation in Uzbekistan is unforgiving because of the lack of convertability of Uzbekistan's currency, the sum. "The lack of investment is an ongoing problem. The country is rich in natural resources, but as you can't convert the currency, foreign investors can't convert their income streams into dollars." But in stark contrast to Dentons, Campbell is adamant that Gouldens is not worried about the political situation in Uzbekistan. He also insists that Gouldens will not be affected by the probable delays in the Uzbekistan privatisation scheme. "It's not a problem," he insists. "Any unrest in the region is ongoing. Everyone talks about privatisations but the real work in Uzbekistan comes from business which is centred on the region's vast natural resources. The main problem is the lack of convertability of the sum." Dentons took over CMS Cameron McKenna's Tash-kent practice in October 2000. Mayer Brown & Platt also withdrew from the region in autumn last year.