Shaistah Akhtar

Mishcon de Reya

Any litigator will tell you that overturning an arbitration award is an uphill battle. Trying to do so nearly three years out of time in a case worth around $11bn to an impoverished nation is something else.

But that’s what Mishcon de Reya partner Shaistah Akhtar and her team achieved last year when the Commercial Court ruled in favour of her client, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the jaw dropping case of Nigeria v Process & Industrial Developments. After an arbitration tribunal ruled in favour of Process & Industrial Developments, Akhtar was instructed by Nigeria and won an unprecedented extension of time to challenge the award. The country was potentially on the hook to pay what amounted to a third of its foreign currency reserves for a contract that was never actually fulfilled. After four years of litigation, including many efforts to uncover evidence of fraud in multiple jurisdictions, Justice Knowles found in October that the original award against Nigeria had been achieved through fraud.

As much as Akhtar, who also leads Mishcon’s sanctions team, tried to run the team just like any other case, it was hard to avoid the real world consequences of what was at stake. With the case receiving daily news coverage in Nigeria, a loss would have meant nurses not trained and roads not built. She hopes the case will now open paths in similar cases where fraud has been buried.

Akhtar has found a niche in digging clients out of particularly deep holes. This year she is acting on a similar arbitration challenge, this time against the Czech Republic involving allegations of corruption by former state officials.