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Selling icons: Bakers and Taylor Wessing lead on Gherkin sale to Safra Group while Magic Circle duo act on Canary Wharf bid

Baker & McKenzie and Taylor Wessing have helped finalise the sale of London’s iconic Gherkin building to the Safra Group for over £700m, while Linklaters and Slaughter and May acted on the unsuccessful preliminary bid for Songbird Estates, the owner of Canary Wharf Group.

As one of London’s most distinctive and recognisable landmarks, the 40-storey City of London skyscraper was expected to be purchased by a foreign buyer. Located at St Mary Axe in the City’s primary financial district, the building was placed into receivership in April after one of its owners was placed in insolvency, with big four giant Deloitte appointed as receiver.

The skyscraper, home to law firms including Kirkland & Ellis and Hunton & Williams, was purchased by German real estate company IVG Immobilien and investment banking company Evans Randall from Swiss Re for £630m in 2006 but the purchasers have struggled with debt issues in recent years. Its new buyer, the Safra Group, is controlled by Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra, and currently has $200bn of assets under management.

This heavyweight real estate mandate saw a Bakers team led by London-based partner and global co-head of financial restructuring & insolvency Ian Jack, head of real estate Stephen Turner and head of investment funds James Burdett, act for the facility agent for the senior lender syndicate and its receivers Deloitte. The syndicate comprises five banks and is led by Bayerische Landesbank. Other Bakers lawyers involved include London-based restructuring partner Louise Webb as well as teams from the firm’s German and Luxembourg offices.

Jack said the landmark deal had ‘involved an incredibly comprehensive and competitive marketing exercise which has yielded a superb result’. The firm has picked up some high profile real estate deals in recent years, including advising on the £1.4bn capital raising by Battersea Power Station from a syndicate of Asian and Middle Eastern banks.

Taylor Wessing, meanwhile, advised the buyer with a multi-disciplinary team led by real estate partner Paul Lawrence, alongside corporate partner Ronald Graham, and corporate tax partner Robert Young. This summer also saw Taylor Wessing secure a role advising on property group UOL’s purchase of the Heron Plaza site for £97m. A 3,200-square metre site located off Bishopsgate and sold by property tycoon Gerald Ronson, that deal constituted UOL’s first major development in London and its first foray into Europe.

Other major real estate activity in recent weeks saw Songbird Estates, the owner of Canary Wharf Group, reject a preliminary bid from the Qatar Investment Authority and Brookfield Property Partners for £2.2bn, a move which saw Linklaters corporate partner Matthew Elliott advise the bidders opposite a team from fellow Magic Circle firm Slaughter and May.   

For more coverage on real estate, see Back in the game – revival at last for real estate but the players have changed