Manmohan Varma v Mittal

Manmohan Varma v Mr Lakshimi Mittal

March, 10 days, Commercial Court

For the claimant Varma:

Robert Griffiths QC of 4-5 Gray’s Inn leading Anthony Dearing of the same set, instructed by RPC partner Tim Brown

For the defendant Mittal:

3 Verulam Buildings’ Paul Lowenstein QC leading Serle Court’s David Drake instructed by Peters & Peters partner Jonathan Tickner

Paul Lowenstein QC
Paul Lowenstein QC

This multmillion-pound claim is being pursued against Britain’s richest man Lakshimi Mittal, chair and CEO of ArcelorMittal.

Rice importer Manmohan Varma is bringing the suit against Mittal, paving the way for the big private client fight of 2013. This case promises to give an insight into the wealthy elite of Anglo-Indian society.

Steel tycoon Mittal is represented by 3 Verulam buildings’ Paul Lownestein QC, who is being asked to defend allegations that he reneged on a multimillion-dollar agreement to pay fees to Varma for helping secure an oil deal with a former Nigerian president.

Varma says the promise of commissions was made to him orally and not written down while the pair were in Mittal’s private jet.

Mittal denies the contract was ever made. He states even if there were an agreement Varma would not be entitled to any commission because he had not played any causative role in brokering the deal.

The deal in question involved a joint venture (JV) between a Mittal company, an Indian state oil company and the Nigerian state in which the JV acquired two Nigerian oil blocks in return for a $6bn investment in Nigerian infrastructure. In the end the oil fields both proved unproductive.

As with Boris Berezovksy and his $5bn claim against Roman Abramovich, Varma’s solicitor team from Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) have agreed to act on a conditional fee arrangement.

The trial on issues of liability will be heard in the Commercial Court in March and issues of quantum will be tried subsequently, if at all.

Big money, big names

As chairman and chief executive of the world’s largest steel production company, ArcelorMittal, Lakshmi Mittal is the UK’s wealthiest citizen and ranks in the top 10 rich list globally.

Peters & Peters partner Jonathan Tickner is the lawyer Mittal turned to after his former associate Manmahon Varma decided to instruct lawyers to launch a case against him. Peters & Peters may be a small litigation boutique in London, but it punches well above its weight when it comes to clients.

Tickner previously represented the former Liverpool FC owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett in their battle with RBS for the club. That case has now gone to Clyde & Co.

Nevertheless, the firm maintains an A-list of litigation clients including the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the Department of Health and Dr Erastus Akingbola, ormer chief executive of one of Nigeria’s largest banks, Intercontinental.

He has instructed 3VB’s Paul Lowenstein QC for Mittal – a heavyweight in commercial, financial and business litigation. The Lawyer first noted Lowenstein as being sought-after in 1998 when he was still a member of Littleton Chambers.

Litigators says he is fastidious in his case management, as well as being tenacious and incisive. Mittal is not the first big-money private client case for Lowenstein – he was also involved in an element of Boris Berezovsky’s London court battles.