Linklaters scoops US side of SNCF financing

Norton Rose has lost the US aspects of French national railway SNCF’s $1.3bn (£831.6bn) cross-border lease financing deal to Linklaters, which boasts the New York capability required to handle a deal essentially governed by US law. Norton Rose’s Paris office retained the French aspects of the deal, despite the loss of relationship partner Thierry Leleu, who introduced the client just a year ago.

Known as a qualified technological equipment (QTE) financing, the deal involved passenger ticketing and reservation systems and consisted of five tranches, each funded by separate equity participants.

Norton Rose asset finance partner George Paterson took over the file from Leleu to advise on the significant French law aspects of the deal.

Leleu first introduced the client when he joined from Mayer Brown & Platt in November 2001. Leleu left Norton Rose on amicable terms in mid-December last year, to become a fund manager at Orion European Real Estate Fund, another of his clients.

The split in the SNCF instruction stems from historic relationships with the railway’s head of financing Alain Thouvenot. While Leleu was at Mayer Brown, it is understood that the firm also got some share of the work in the US. However, this seems to have been a mere blip in a strong personal relationship with Linklaters New York partner Marianne Rosenberg, who brought the client with her from White & Case when she moved in 1998.

Previous finance deals for SNCF have involved rolling stock, although Mayer Brown is understood to have advised a subsidiary on a QTE financing while Leleu was at the firm. Norton Rose is now keen to strengthen the relationship in France, not least because SNCF is likely to embark on more deals of this nature in the future.

Paterson, who is qualified in France, England and Wales and Scotland, said: “It is very much for us to try to build on and keep that relationship. If we don’t, I’m sure SNCF will end up using Linklaters or someone else in Paris. They’re very comfortable using Marianne [at Linklaters] and I hope they’ll be comfortable with us.”

The US counsel to the equity participants were Chadbourne & Parke, Hunton & Williams, Shearman & Sterling and King & Spalding, which advised on two tranches.