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Vinson & Elkins snatches BLP arbitration partner ahead of Panama Canal dispute

Berwin Leighton Paisner arbitration partner Amir Ghaffari has switched to Vinson & Elkins as the firm looks to gear up for an International Chamber of Commerce arbitration over the standoff between contractors and authorities concerning a historic expansion of the Panama Canal.

Ghaffari, who specialises in construction disputes and has a strong client base in the Middle East, will split his time between London and Dubai, where he becomes the firm’s first fully fledged arbitration partner. Vinson & Elkins has three office across the Middle East – in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Dubai – that have to date focused on transactions.

His addition adds to the firm’s disputes capability in London which has become the centre of the practice since a strategy was put in place to grow its arbitration base three years ago. The firm is preparing for the next phase of the dispute between the Panama Canal Authority and a Spanish-led consortium over cost overruns and delays to the $5.2bn expansion project.

Spin out disputes are expected to be filed which would involve most, if not all, of the firm’s London arbitration partners alongside lead partner Nick Henchie, who carried across his relationship with PCA when he arrived from Mayer Brown to head of the firm’s international construction group in 2010.

Ghaffari’s arrival comes a year after Vinson & Elkins secured the hire of investment arbitration partner George Burn from Dentons. Head of V&E’s international dispute resolution practice, James Loftis, said: ‘Amir brings the right combination of legal skill, advocacy experience and diplomacy during a time when the importance and the complexity of international disputes has grown in recent years. Amir has worked for several years with one of the best of the international arbitration bar and we are pleased to have him as part of a team that offers a unique understanding of the regions of the world where our clients operate.”

Ghaffari added: ‘I’m thrilled to be part of a team that is handling some of the most important disputes in the energy and infrastructure space. V&E offers a vast global reach and depth of knowledge in handling disputes, especially in key international markets and industries, such as energy where the firm has a proven track record and offers deep, historical ties.’

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