Lovells, White & Case caught in Thai coup

Lovells and White & Case were left reeling following Thailand’s recent bloodless coup, when the political unrest impacted on a major international arbitration case on which the firms were advising.

The Lawyer can exclusively reveal that White & Case has been representing the Thai government, while Lovells is advising longstanding German client Walter Bau in the investment treaty dispute.

With the Thai government as a client, there was doubt as to whether White & Case would still have an instruction after former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was removed from power while attending a UN convention in New York on 19 September.

However, following retired general Surayud Chulanont’s appointment as interim prime minister by Thai military leaders, the arbitration is proceeding with all the parties represented as before.

International arbitration lawyers are closely watching the outcome of the case. Shearman & Sterling head of international arbitration Emmanuel Gaillard said: “This case is important because the outcome will greatly influence how other investors view the stability of Thailand and whether they accept it as a wise jurisdiction in which to invest.”

Bankrupt construction company Walter Bau brought a request for arbitration against the Thai government last October for repeated nonpayment of $100m (£53.84m) in construction bills. Walter Bau is a 10 per cent shareholder in the Don Muang Tollway, a company that won a 25-year contract to build and operate a tolled motorway in Bangkok. Under United Nations Commission on International Trade Law rules, the arbitration is being heard in Geneva by a tribunal comprised of former New Zealand judge Sir Ian Barker, Suvarn Valaisathien, a Thai tax lawyer, and Marc Lalonde, a former Canadian cabinet minister.

While Walter Bau hopes to recoup its money, it is up to the tribunal to decide the amount of an award if it considers that the Thai government has broken its investment treaty. Both Lovells and White & Case declined to comment.