Legal market overview
Following the lifting of international nuclear sanctions, Iran is in the process of being reintroduced to the global economy and, crucially, reconnected to the global banking system. The opening of the country for international business has led to a deluge of foreign visits with the purpose of laying the groundwork for investment and trade. While the Iranian economy is dominated by oil and gas production – it has the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves – it also successfully exports products including liquefied propane, methanol, hand-woven carpets, automobiles, and foodstuffs such as pistachios.
China and Russia are expected to step in as the major trading partners for Iran, particularly with regards to armaments, European Union countries will steal a march over their US competitors following a divergence in foreign policy; in the European Union, key restrictions on funds transfers and financial services as well as oil, gas and petrochemicals will be removed but, in the US, persons will continue to be broadly prohibited from engaging in dealings involving Iran, including the Government of Iran, with the exception of a few additional categories of transactions that the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) assigns.
Here we look at local law firms that are well placed to advise inbound investors. Foreign law firms may not practise in Iran, although the coverage below is rounded out with mention of two foreign firms with substantial experience with regard to Iran or Iran-related business.
Atai & Associates Attorneys at Law provides a full range of corporate, commercial and dispute resolution services under the leadership of Ali Akbar Atai, who wins praise for his ‘honest, resourceful and solution-oriented’ approach. Ardeshir Atai’s practice includes arbitration and advising clients on foreign investment in Iran. The practice has been particularly busy advising on the importation of grain and pharmaceuticals to Iran, but also has been active advising certain clients on intellectual property rights infringements and IT needs. In recent litigation, the firm successfully represented clients in a $10m property reclamation case.
At International Law Firm of Dr. Ali Hatami and Associates, Ali Hatami’s team has been involved in a number of substantial projects, including advising Iran Mall Commercial Company on the development and construction of the €4bn Iran shopping mall, as well as advising Foulad Tiam Bistoun on building an €84m steel mill. A key area of work for the firm is international trade and advising companies seeking to avoid sanctions; it has been active on behalf of clients such as Stahls and Midas Oil Industry in this respect.
Name partner Mahmoud Ebadi Tabrizi at Law Offices of M Ebadi Tabrizi & Associates is ‘prompt and willing to resolve problems’; he handles a varied caseload for international clients such as the World Bank. Recent highlights include successfully acting for NewCo in an IRR650m dispute with Idrolanda over payment for an industrial laser cutter and representing Anverally & Sons in litigation relating to an alleged trade mark infringement. On the non-contentious side, the firm has been busy with trade mark registrations and advising on sale and distribution agreements.
T&S Associates is a full-service firm, which has been particularly busy assisting companies seeking to establish a corporate presence in Iran, as well as advising on the structuring or restructuring of trade relations between foreign suppliers and local importers. Clients include Renault, Coca-Cola and DHL. Ahmad Ehtesham heads the team.
Zacon Associates is praised for its ability to ‘build an intercultural bridge between European and Iranian culture and language’; it is headed by Mohammad Reza Ranjbar, who is qualified in the UK, Germany and Iran. The firm has particular strength in corporate and commercial work, but also advises on a range of other areas including IT contracts and trade mark infringement cases. Sanctions advice is another core area of activity, especially in relation to the firm’s strong German client base.
The international legal community has not been blind to the commercial opportunities that Iran has to offer but most firms have limited their activity to advice on sanctions: with a particularly watchful eye on the power of the US to authorise penalties against non-US persons that engage in trading activities involving Iran. The following firms notably have longstanding experience in relation to Iranian business:
Corporate specialist Jonathan Silver leads Clyde & Co LLP’s team from Dubai. Patrick Murphy has been very active advising on sanctions and, in Abu Dhabi, Farsi speaker Amir Kordvani assists businesses seeking entry to the Iranian market; John Whittaker and Clare Hatcher provide support from London.
Stephenson Harwood has a ‘strong record in successfully challenging Iranian sanctions’ and is also praised for its commercial litigation expertise. In Dubai, managing partner Rovine Chandrasekera has been handling sanctions issues for clients including National Iranian Tanker Company. In London, the team includes banking and finance expert Sue Millar, ‘standout sanctions practitioner’ Stephen Ashley, and technology contracts expert Dan Holland.