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Clifford Chance’s Australia office leads on Shell’s $5.7bn Woodside disposal

Clifford Chance’s (CC’s) Sydney office has been given a vote of confidence in taking the lead on Royal Dutch Shell’s $5.7bn sale of a majority stake in Woodside Petroleum as the energy major moves to develop its own gas assets in Australia.

Sydney-based CC M&A partner Lance Sacks is leading the deal alongside Shell’s London-based corporate and commercial solicitor Sean Ashley, in a deal that reduces Shell’s holding in the asset to 4.5% from 23.1%.

Shell is a major global client of CC, which last year advised on its acquisition of Repsol’s portfolio outside of North America for $4.4bn. However earlier this year when the Magic Circle giant advised on the sale of Shell’s Australian downstream business, including its Geelong Refinery to Vitol for A$2.9bn, the deal was led out of London by Kathy Honeywood alongside Geraint Hughes in Singapore and Tracey Renshaw in Australia.

On this latest deal Sacks was assisted by Sydney-based counsel Amelia Horvath, associate Marcus Ap, and special counsel Jane Ann Gray, alongside Hong Kong-based partner Crawford Brickley, who advised on US securities law aspects of the transaction.

Woodside was advised by Herbert Smith Freehills Sydney-based corporate partner Philippa Stone and Perth-based capital market partner David Gray.

Clifford Chance launched in Sydney in 2011 through a double tie-up with Chang Pistilli & Simmons in Sydney and Cochrane Lishman Carson Luscombe in Perth, creating a 14-partner presence in the country.

However, the mergers failed to project CC into the same league as Ashurst’s merger with big six Australian firm Blake Dawson or Herbert Smith with Freehills, with the firm rated by the Legal 500 as fourth tier for corporate and energy and resources work in Australia.

The local team has grown to 16 partners and over 60 lawyers and advises clients on matters from cross-border M&A and complex financial and capital-markets transactions to Australian antitrust and regulatory matters.

Recent examples of high profile deals the Australian office has advised on include Sumitomo Corporation’s joint US$1bn purchase with Glencore Xstrata of a 50.1% interest in Australian coal assets from Rio Tinto, and a consortium of 80 lenders on the Australian aspects of the US$17bn refinancing of Glencore Xstrata.