State-owned enterprises (SOEs, including sovereign wealth funds) are prominent players in international business. Given their ownership, SOEs have garnered scrutiny for their lack of transparency and heightened anti-corruption and anti-money laundering risk, as have individual SOE executives and other personnel who qualify as Politically Exposed Persons. In connection with commercial activities, SOEs are not protected in most cases by sovereign immunity. Thus, SOEs can, like their privately-owned counterparts, be subject to foreign legal processes. Given the greater scrutiny around SOEs and some of the high profile enforcement actions involving them directly or indirectly (for example, the 1MDB case), anti-corruption and other compliance, as well as good governance and risk management, are essential to avoid legal, commercial, and reputational risk and loss.
This post discusses these issues in Dana Gas sukuk matter and offers some observations and lessons that can be drawn from the governing law and forum selection questions raised by the Dana Gas sukuk matter. As this post entails post hoc discussion of the Dana Gas sukuk offering based on publicly available information, there is an element (or more) of Monday morning quarterbacking, and this should be borne in mind. Nevertheless, the general observations and potential lessons—which are not unique to the Dana Gas sukuk or Islamic transactions—should be read for their generality.
Dana Gas PJSC, the Sharjah, UAE-based gas producer, has unilaterally declared “unlawful” sukuk instruments issued by the company in 2013  (through, as issuer, Dana Gas Sukuk Limited, a Jersey public company with limited liability). This post discusses some of the Shari’ah, UAE law, and factual issues triggered by the Dana Gas statement on the unlawfulness of its sukuk.
Dana Gas’ move to halt its obligations under the sukuk terms on the grounds that the instruments are unlawful under Islamic law triggers many issues for discussion, including: (1) the legal and tactical soundness of its actions, (2) implications for the sukuk market and Islamic finance generally, and (3) the real and perceived quality of Shari’ah governance (both with respect to the sukuk at issue and sukuk and Islamic finance generally). This is not the first time that an Islamic instrument has been deemed unlawful by the originating party in an effort to avoid payment obligations. Years ago, an Islamic financial institution,The Investment Dar, asserted in an English court that a wakalah investment product that it offered and managed was not Shari’ah compliant and therefore unenforceable.
With respect to foreign correspondent banking, the Guidelines’ clarifications are designed to respond to the withdrawal of correspondent banking relationships (derisking) that have adversely affected banks and, in some cases, entire regions. Accordingly, Annex 2 of the Guidelines includes a list of risk factors that “correspondent banks should consider in their risk assessment of money laundering and financing of terrorism associated with correspondent banking.”
Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the international financial center and free zone located on Al Maryah Island in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, yesterday opened a public consultation on the ADGM’s proposed foundation regime (Consultation Paper No. 3 of 2017 and proposed Foundations Regulations 2017). The development is significant and positive, as the ADGM foundation, as proposed, would be the first-of-its kind in the UAE and particularly helpful for family businesses, philanthropy and wealth management in the UAE and the Middle East more broadly. The foundation model proposed is based on the civil law foundation, as it is an incorporated entity (with independent legal personality) with characteristics analogous to some features of the common law trust.
On May 17, 2017, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH)—respectively ranking members of the Senate Finance; Homeland Security and Government Affairs; and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committees of the U.S. Senate—asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the approach taken by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to foreign investment in U.S. real estate and to "assess whether and how CFIUS addresses the full range of national security challenges such transactions may pose." (The Senators' letter to the GAO is below). Specifically, the Senators have asked the GAO to examine a number of issues aimed at assessing the extent to which applicable regulations and the CFIUS process capture real estate transactions, the percentage of foreign acquisitions of U.S. real estate that have "filed" for CFIUS review, and the information and processes used by CFIUS to assess national security issues raised by foreign acquisitions of U.S. real estate.
The OBOR, even if partially successful, would, as many analysts and commentators have noted, alter the global trade landscape, if not “shake up” the global economic order in place since the end of World War II. Less discussed (except, for example, in this 2015 MassPoint Occasional Note) is one likely secondary effect of the OBOR and other trade and finance initiatives that are not centered on the U.S. dollar or the Bretton Woods system: the likely curtailment of the global reach of U.S. law.
MassPoint News Hdeel Abdelhady is due to speak about planning for and managing uncertainty in social impact investment, particularly in emerging markets. Ms. Abdelhady, who is MassPoint’s Founder and Principal, has 15 years of experience in transactions, disputes, and regulatory matters in and involving emerging and developing markets in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
On April 27, 2017, I attended a Congressional hearing on “Safeguarding the Financial System from Terrorist Financing,” held by the House Committee on Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance (the “Subcommittee”). The sole witness was Mr. Jamal El-Hindi, Acting Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury charged with protecting the financial system from money laundering, terrorism financing and other illicit activities. The hearing’s purposes were to examine the methods and efficacy of FinCEN data collection, processing and information sharing and whether the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and USA PATRIOT Act should be amended to improve FinCEN’s anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CFT) capacities and performance. In this brief MassPoint update, I highlight BSA data collection and usage numbers and some of the questions and issues that appeared to be of particular interest and/or concern to Congress members in attendance, taking into account the nature and frequency of the questions asked, the tone of questions, and related requests for additional or clarifying information from FinCEN.