Legal market overview
Azerbaijan’s oil-led economy has been affected by the worldwide drop in commodity prices, causing significantly slower economic growth. Oil companies scaling back their operations have generated a wide range of legal work for the market, which contains a range of international law firms and sophisticated local competitors. Construction programmes funded by the nation’s oil wealth are another key source of mandates; the country hosted its first European Games in 2015. The lifting of international sanctions against Azerbaijan’s southern neighbour Iran will be warmly welcomed, but business and government are primarily focused on achieving closer ties with Europe.
The ranking is based on quality and scope of service. Therefore, a narrowly focused practice may be ranked lower in the table than a quality competitor with a broader base, but may still be outstanding in its chosen discipline.
Baker & McKenzie – CIS, Limited ‘provides a high level of service’. Altay Mustafayev acted as transaction counsel for UBS and Citibank on the creation of a euro-commercial paper (ECP) programme for the International Bank of Azerbaijan; he also advised BNP Paribas on a similar programme for AccessBank. Along with office managing partner Gunduz Karimov, who has ‘wide legal expertise and a broad professional network’, Mustafayev also advised Siemens on the purchase of Rolls-Royce’s gas turbine business in the country. Kamil Valiyev is the key partner for energy, oil and gas and IT matters.
Dentons ‘provides services on a high professional level’ and is ‘technically good and commercially practical’. Managing partner James Hogan and Kamal Mammadzade advised Goldman Sachs on the Azerbaijani law issues of a $1.3bn equity financing of SOCAR’s Turkish subsidiary to fund a refinery project. In addition, the firm was transaction counsel for Petronas on its $2.25bn purchase of a 15.5% stake in the Shah Deniz gas field and related midstream infrastructure, the largest energy deal to date in Azerbaijan. Associate Ulvia Zeynalova-Bockin is ‘very thorough’ and has ‘detailed knowledge of the relevant employment legislation’. Of counsel Farhad Hajizade joined from PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal.
MGB Law Offices Limited ‘provides timely and insightful advice in relation to corporate law matters’, including financing and M&A. The firm is ‘of real assistance to clients requiring specialist local knowledge’ and is ‘focused on delivering commercial advice that can be relied upon’. Managing partner Ismail Askerov is ‘experienced in general corporate and securities law matters’; he ‘readily makes himself available when required and is able to provide a high level of technical expertise’. Along with Kamal Huseynli, he advised Axa on its purchase of a local insurer and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on the financing of copper and mineral water projects.
Omni Law Firm undertakes a range of work, including financing, M&A, dispute resolution, procurement and construction mandates. Roman Alloyarov advised SOCAR on a $3.3bn financing of the STAR refinery in Turkey and acted for flag carrier Azerbaijan Airlines on a $200m bridge loan for two Boeing 787 aircraft. Ismail Zargarli advised GlaxoSmithKline on the Azerbaijani aspects of an asset swap with Novartis. Other clients include Marriott, Microsoft and GlaxoSmithKline. Elchin Mammadov joined from BM Morrison Partners LLC.
BM Morrison Partners LLC ‘compares tremendously well with firms practising in countries with a similar profile to that of Azerbaijan’. Its ‘responsive, professional, proactive and effective’ team provides ‘an excellent level of service’ in the banking, finance and capital markets sectors. Delara Israfilova and managing partner Aykhan Asadov are ‘excellent lawyers’; they advised a bank on the $500m financing of a plastics factory. Clients include household names in the pharmaceuticals, financial services, hi-tech and energy sectors.
Deloitte Azerbaijan has experience of advising clients on banking operations, competition law, corporate reorganisations, joint ventures, and due diligence on M&A, as well as human resources and contract negotiations, among others. Vugar Mammadov heads the practice, which acts for a number of well-known international businesses.
Ekvita’s ‘very professional’ team has ‘a very good understanding of the business climate in Azerbaijan’. Anar Karimov advised Expro, a subcontractor of BP on the Shah Deniz gas field, on corporate, employment and regulatory matters; he is also ‘proficient in Islamic finance’. Ilgar Mehti advises Topaz Marine on regulatory, tax and debt recovery matters. The two are ‘standout performers’; they ‘complement each other with their in-depth knowledge of immigration law and government protocols’.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Legal advises on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious practice areas including employment, telecoms, company formation and transactions. The practice advised cargo airline Silk Way Airlines on aircraft engine lease agreements. Samir Hadjiyev joined from Grata Azerbaijan LLC, but Farhad Hajizade moved to Dentons
Azem & Partners LLC’s experience includes immigration law, construction law, company registrations and tax issues. Construction-sector clients include AZERCON, Hyundai and Azersu, Azerbaijan’s national water utility. Emil Gurbanov is the managing partner.
BHM Baku Law Centre’s team mainly advises on tax, real estate and employment matters. Managing partner Anar Baghirov was elected to the presidium of the Azerbaijan Bar Association in 2012. The firm has a joint venture with Austrian firm Lansky, Ganzger + Partner (LGP).
Ernst & Young Holdings (CIS) B.V., Branch Office in the Republic of Azerbaijan provides ‘very good’ service and ‘clear and helpful advice’ in relation to contentious matters, such as tax disputes, as well as transactional matters such as company registration, human resources and project finance. Clients include major players in the oil and gas, construction and software sectors. Arzu Hajiyeva, who heads the Baku office, is recommended.
IJS Law Firm’s recent work includes advising on a range of M&A, disputes and financial services matters. Akram Hasanov, a former head of legal at the Bank of Baku, is the managing partner.
Firms in the spotlight
EKVITA is a full-service legal and tax consulting firm. In early 2011, the firm merged with a local tax consulting firm established in 1999, thereby significantly expanding its practice areas, and claiming tax consulting as one of its main areas. EKVITA now brings together 15 years of local expertise and knowledge.
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