Embattled property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz (pictured) has replaced long-time legal advisers Stephenson Harwood with Debevoise & Plimpton after his €2bn claim against an Abu Dhabi investment company was thrown out.
A Debevoise team led by dispute resolution partner Kevin Lloyd will take over future Tchenguiz mandates, including a key Commercial Court case later this year. Tchenquiz had only drafted in Stephenson Harwood in 2014 to replace Shearman & Sterling in his later-settled case against the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
The latest switch follows a recent dispute between Tchenguiz’s Luxembourg-based special purpose vehicle Edgeworth Capital and Aabar, an Abu Dhabi investment company. Edgeworth and Aabar had entered into a failed joint venture to buy a €3bn, 400-acre site outside of Madrid, home to the global headquarters of Spanish banking giant Santander.
Aabar attempted to recover around €113m from Edgeworth as a result of the failed investment, but the Tchenguiz-owned company then sued Aabar for €2bn, alleging it was not entitled to make the demand. Justice Popplewell threw out Tchenguiz’s claim last week (29 June), finding ‘it was clear from Mr Tchenguiz’s evidence that he had no genuine recollection of agreeing the terms alleged.’
Notably, Justice Popplewell criticised Tchenguiz’s oral evidence in his judgment, saying: ‘He seemed to take little care in his language or the accuracy of his evidence, often contradicting something he had said previously’. The judge said it could ‘only be categorised as lying.’
Stephenson Harwood had instructed One Essex Court’s Alain Choo Choy QC and Essex Court Chambers’ John Robb to fight the Edgeworth claim. Aabar was represented by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, who instructed One Essex Court’s Sonia Tolaney QC, James MacDonald and Sophie Weber.
The newly-appointed Debevoise team will have little time to prepare as Tchenguiz gears up for a further three-month Commercial Court trial on 1 October. Tchenguiz is pursuing two Grant Thornton partners and Icelandic lawyer Jóhannes Jóhannsson, alleging they misled the SFO into conducting dawn raids on his and his brother Vincent’s properties in 2012. The Tchenguiz brothers reached a £4.5m out-of-court settlement with the SFO in 2014.
The Grant Thornton partners will be represented by Simmons & Simmons, while Jóhannsson will be advised by Travers Smith.
Stephenson Harwood and Debevoise both declined to comment.