Legal market overview
- Joel Benjamin - Kinstellar LLP
Olga Chentsova -
- Aigoul Kenjebayeva - Dentons
- Pavel Kornilov - White & Case Kazakhstan LLP
- Azamat Kuatbekov - Baker & McKenzie – CIS, Limited
- Kenneth Mack - Dechert Kazakhstan Limited
- Curtis Masters - Baker & McKenzie – CIS, Limited
- Aset Shyngyssov - Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP
- Maxim Telemtayev - White & Case Kazakhstan LLP
- Vitaliy Vodolazkin - Sayat Zholshy & Partners
Kazakhstan’s economy is powered by mining of its mineral wealth, ranging from uranium, of which it mines a third of the world’s output, to hydrocarbons. Low commodity prices have had a negative impact, causing a sharp devaluation of the Tenge (the Kazakh currency), putting somewhat of a brake on economic growth. However, sanctions against Russia are leading investors to divert attention to Kazakhstan.
Notable developments on the legal front include Kazakhstan joining the World Trade Organisation in July 2015 and the May 2015 announcement of plans for the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC), a financial hub modelled on the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with an English law commercial court system of its own.
Subsurface industry work has attracted a number of top-drawer international law firms to the country, some of which have been present for many years. Highly professional local firms and the legal arms of the Big Four accounting firms also feature on the landscape of what is by far Central Asia’s most sophisticated legal market. Law firms are roughly evenly split between Almaty, the former capital and commercial hub, and Astana, the new capital. Many have offices in both cities, but the AIFC may add urgency to the need for a presence in Astana.
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 considered outstanding in its chosen disciplines.
Baker & McKenzie – CIS, Limited, ‘provides a Rolls-Royce service’. In the investment arbitration field, Azamat Kuatbekov, the office’s managing partner, acted alongside members of the firm’s other offices in representing KazTransGas in an arbitration against Georgia regarding investments in KazTransGas-TBILISI. Tax mandates included representing Nelson Petroleum Buzachi in a $15m transfer-pricing dispute. The firm also advises on the competition aspects of M&A deals. Of counsel Igor Kolupayev heads the tax practice and is recommended alongside Curtis Masters, who advises on finance and corporate matters.
Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP has ‘a unique perspective on the oil and gas industry’, and its team has ‘outstanding knowledge of the industry and country-specific issues’. Primarily it works for public sector clients, often in international arbitration, but also has ‘stress-resistant negotiators’ that are involved in high-end private sector transactional matters. Askar Moukhitdinov leads the Almaty and Astana offices; he advised KazAtomProm, the publicly owned nuclear utility, on matters relating to its 10% shareholding in Westinghouse. In the banking and M&A sectors, the firm advised Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund, on the sale of its stakes in Alliance Bank and Temir Bank to Bulat Utemuratov, one of Kazakhstan’s richest men. New York-based Eric Gilioli is substantially involved in the market’s work: his ‘strength is his ability to provide support and guidance in high-level negotiations’, as well as his ‘knowledge of the local legal, political and cultural specifics’.
Dechert Kazakhstan Limited ‘excels at cross-border work’ in the capital markets and oil and gas sectors, as well as in dispute resolution. Texas and England-qualified Walter Daniel, who joined the firm from PricewaterhouseCoopers Tax & Advisory LLP in September 2014, ‘does a great job of looking out for client’s interests’; ‘his leadership, presence and language skills are instrumental’. Victor Mokrousov advised Kazkommertsbank on its $465m purchase of a 46.5% stake in BTA Bank from Samruk-Kazyna, and acted for the Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company on its ‘People’s IPO’. Other clients include Total, China National Petroleum Corporation and Halliburton. Kenneth Mack is recommended for his ‘strategic insights and influence through the American Chamber of Commerce’; he advises on oil and gas matters. Mukhit Yeleuov is ‘a very competent litigator’, and associate Yelena Pestereva has ‘very valuable expertise on Kazakh environmental law’.
Dentons’ ‘very precise, highly knowledgeable and definitely client-oriented’ team advises on a full range of Kazakh law matters including M&A, intellectual property and construction. Victoria Simonova is ‘very knowledgeable; it is impossible for her to not find a solution to her client’s concerns’. Abai Shaikenov is ‘a highly experienced banking lawyer who is always there to provide needed support and valuable advice – he understands clients’ needs and is unafraid to think out of the box’; among other matters, he advised KazAgro National Management Holding on an update of its $2bn debt issuance programme and a separate €600m bond issue. Litigator Kanat Skakov is ‘very good at building arguments in documents and presenting them in hearings’; he represents clients in oil-related and tax litigation. Aigoul Kenjebayeva, who advises major brand owners on trade mark protection and patents, heads the six-partner team.
Kinstellar LLP is ‘excellent, responsive, professional and business-oriented’ and ‘covers the key corporate and finance areas very well’. Other areas of work include litigation before the local courts, joint ventures and capital markets matters; the firm acted for JPMorgan as solicitation agent on planned changes to notes issued by BTA Bank. The ‘very experienced, able and responsive’ Joel Benjamin has ‘a good knowledge of the business environment and local players in Kazakhstan’; he advised UniCredit and the EBRD on a $260m loan financing of Yildirim Group’s project to restructure the Voskhod chromium mine. The ‘responsive, hardworking and business-oriented’ Adlet Yerkinbayev is ‘a superb technical Kazakh lawyer’, who has ‘a good knowledge of infrastructure and M&A’. ‘Very talented’ associate Kuanysh Shekerbekov advises on M&A and data protection.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP is ‘one of the best law firms in Kazakhstan, at least in corporate transactions such as M&A and capital markets’. Other areas of work include real estate, public procurement and corporate matters. Aset Shyngyssov, who has created ‘a very efficient and professional team’, is ‘highly experienced in multinational transactions’. The firm advised Geo-Jade Petroleum on its scheduled $350m purchase of a Dutch-based subsurface business operating in the country and assisted VTB Capital with a $3.45bn financing of Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation. Newly appointed international partner Asem Bakenova advises on M&A; she ‘adapts herself very easily to understand new complex matters quickly’. Bakhytzhan Kadyrov, also promoted to international partner, ‘can be relied on for tax issues’. Key partner Klara Nurgaziyeva ‘perfectly understands the local regulations in the corporate, subsurface and competition areas, and has an exceptional ability to work under pressure’.
White & Case Kazakhstan LLP advises on capital markets, debt restructuring, M&A and financing matters in the financial services, pharmaceuticals, mining, and oil and gas sectors. Executive partner Maxim Telemtayev and Vilen Adjivefayev advised HSBC on the $176m sale of its Kazakh operations to Halyk Bank, and assisted Alliance Bank with its consolidation of TemirBank and ForteBank. Alongside the firm’s London office, Pavel Kornikov advised a number of leading banks – including JPMorgan and HSBC – on transactional documents and procurement issues relating to Kazakhstan’s $2.5bn sale of 10 – and 30-year bonds, the country’s first dollar-denominated overseas sale for over a decade. Subsurface-related mandates included advising Kazzinc, a subsidiary of Glencore, on its purchase of Zhairemsky, a supplier of manganese-based products, from Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation. Kirill Zenin, who is qualified in New York, England & Wales and Russia, joined the practice in September 2015.
Aequitas has ‘a multi-functional team with a friendly and warm atmosphere’ that ‘provides all types of legal advice, especially in the oil and gas sector’. The firm advised a foreign oil explorer and producer on a programme to use innovative extraction methods. Managing partner Olga Chentsova is ‘a highly experienced lawyer who always understands the situation and the real business needs of clients’; she acted as a Kazakh law expert in the famous Ruby Roz Agricol v Kazakhstan investment arbitration. Senior adviser Violetta Kim successfully represented White & Case Kazakhstan LLP in a $1.3m tax dispute. Finance partner Valikhan Shaikenov has ‘a fine mind, even in tangled situations’; he advised RBS in a legally unusual recovery of over $20m of debt. Other areas of work include public procurement, construction and employment law.
Michael Wilson & Partners advises on joint ventures, contracts, shareholder disputes and litigation in the banking, hydrocarbon and hi-tech sectors. Name partner Michael Wilson, an English-qualified solicitor who divides his time between Almaty and Baku, heads the practice. Clients include Bloomberg, for which the firm acted in a VAT dispute.
Norton Rose Fulbright assists key players in the subsurface sector on M&A, finance and operational matters. Yerzhan Kumarov, who leads the Almaty office, advised Rosneft on its deal to use KazTransOil’s pipeline network to transport Russian oil to China. It also advised Yildirim Group on its $425m purchase of ferroalloy assets, including the Voskhod chromium ore mine, from OAO Mechel Group. Other work included acting for KazMicroFinance on obtaining $20m in debt and equity finance from a European hedge fund. Other clients include OMV, which it advised on its planned acquisition of interests in two subsidiaries of KazMunaiGas. Tatiana Muratova is also a key contact.
Olympex Advisers LLP advises on corporate, dispute resolution, finance and subsurface rights matters. Diyar Ereshev, who leads the natural resources practice, advises the Kazakh Ministry of Investment and Development on subsurface matters, while Yessen Massalin and Zhandos Taukenov advise clients such as KazAtomProm and KazTransOil on corporate matters. The firm also represents clients in tax disputes and shipping litigation. Bolat Toktarov is chairman of the council of partners.
Reed Smith LLP advises the Kazakh government on investment treaty disputes, as well as private sector clients on transactions. Belinda Paisley, who divides her time between London and Almaty, led a team that successfully defended the Kazakh government in a high-stakes investment treaty arbitration claim brought by AES Corporation regarding energy sector regulation, following which the claimants were ordered to pay costs. Counsel Askar Zhansagimov, who heads the Astana office, advises on financing and capital markets matters; he assisted the Kazakh Ministry of Finance with its issuance of sovereign Eurobonds. London-based James Wilkinson manages the Kazakh transactional practice as a whole.
‘One of the good local firms in Kazakhstan’, Unicase Law Firm (formerly known as Colibri Kazakhstan LLP) is ‘comprised of young, bright, highly intelligent and successful lawyers who know what they do and keep their clients happy’. The firm has ‘an impressive network of local contacts, which is helpful when you need to set up an urgent meeting with government officials’. Artem Timoshenko, who is ‘very efficient in terms of finding legal solutions and information’, advised Samruk Energy, a new client, on a planned sale of shares in four energy companies and also successfully represented Saga Creek Gold Company in an $800,000 tax dispute. Other clients include the EBRD and other areas of work include construction, public procurement and subsurface activity. Saniya Toleshova is ‘very good in negotiations’; Raushana Chaltabayeva was elevated to partner.
Real estate boutique Artyushenko & Partners’ ‘experience saves clients’ time’. Name partner Andrey Artyushenko, ‘a qualified specialist with good industry knowledge’, also shows good ‘business acumen’. In addition to work for a number of household-name clients, the firm advised Kazakhstan’s largest honey producer on the real estate aspects of a merger.
Bolotov & Partners LLP (formerly known as BMF Group LLP) advises on IP, M&A and project financing matters, and has experience in civil and criminal trade mark disputes. In early 2014, it set up BMF Research, a counterfeiting intelligence monitoring venture. The managing partner is Yuri Bolotov.
‘One of the top firms across Central Asia’, Centil Law (formerly known as Colibri Law Firm) has ‘a very efficient and client-oriented approach’. Areas of work include M&A, construction, corporate, insolvency and financing matters. Otabek Suleimanov advised Zurich on Kazakh insurance law and provided Kazakh law advice to a foreign law firm on a construction project. Ravshan Rakhmanov advises on high-value corporate transactions; Sofia Shaykhrazieva, head of the banking and finance practice across Central Asia, is ‘attentive to quality and easy to communicate with’. Dinara Jarmukhanova, who joined the firm’s Almaty office from Reed Smith LLP, has transactional and investment arbitration experience.
Deloitte TCF, LLP variously advises on corporate, employment, competition, energy, tax law, and dispute resolution. Team head Agaisha Ibrasheva advised Samruk-Kazyna on a corporate reorganisation. Other key figures include senior manager Olessya Kirilovskaya and manager Assel Kazbekova, who advise on due diligence and oil and gas.
Ernst & Young Kazakhstan LLP advises on dispute resolution, energy, licensing, corporate, intellectual property and customs issues. Senior associate Salomat Nurbayeva and Dinara Karimova are ‘extremely client-oriented and pay special attention to the minute details’.
Grata International is ‘a trusted adviser’ in dispute resolution, corporate, employment arbitration and tax matters. Managing partner Rashid Gaissin moved to PricewaterhouseCoopers Tax & Advisory LLP in September 2015.
Integrites is ‘a pleasure to deal with and very responsive’. The firm provides ‘very strong and practical advice’ in areas such as competition, customs disputes, financing, real estate and immigration. Managing partner Kurmangazy Talzhanov advised Capital Bank Kazakhstan on the competition and due diligence aspects of its purchase of RBS’ operations in Kazakhstan. Duman Akhmetov ‘shows strong understanding of the clients’ needs’ in IP matters; recently he advised Astana Group on trade mark issues.
Linkage & Mind LLP ‘provides services of a high quality on a timely basis’ and is ‘always ready to suggest the best and most client-oriented solutions’. The firm handles corporate work and matters involving oil and gas, renewable energy, financing and construction. Managing partner Madina Sypatayeva advised Samruk Energy on its planned sale of two companies with a combined value of over $140m; she is ‘able to give valuable advice on corporate law and M&A; she is very client-oriented and always tries to find the best solution’. Yerzhan Manasov is ‘perfect in tax law and disputes’; ‘his goal-oriented approach saves clients time’.
Nazkhanov and Partners displays ‘a high level of knowledge and extensive expertise’. Chiefly, it represents parties in commercial disputes and defends clients in white-collar criminal proceedings. Managing partner Tair Nazkhanov successfully represented a retailer in a VAT dispute with the Kazakh tax authorities, as well as a private client accused of smuggling fuel into the country from Russia. Natalia Russakova, who undertakes criminal and civil disputes work, is ‘perfectly versed in legal proceedings’.
Oris LLP is ‘a good finance and capital markets firm’ that provides ‘knowledgeable and responsive service’. Founding partner Amir Tussupkhanov has ‘a strong knowledge of the market, authorities and legal practices’. He and colleagues advised Shell on the Kazakh aspects of its $70bn purchase of BG Group plc. Other clients include the EBRD and Airbus. In June 2016, *Aituar Madin and several colleagues left the firm and subsequently joined Zanger Law Firm.
Sayat Zholshy & Partners’s managing partner Vitaliy Vodolazkin heads the dispute resolution practice. The firm also advises on joint ventures, debt enforceability, construction or M&A, and Arman Berdalin assisted Samruk-Kazyna with the sale of its stake in BTA Bank.
Signum Law Firm provides advice to a number of well-known international clients on environmental, subsurface, taxation, debt recovery, competition law or compliance matters. Managing partner Sofiya Zhylkaidarova is ‘very devoted and supportive of her clients, an excellent negotiator with government officials and creative in finding solutions’. Talgat Sariev is ‘excellent at defending clients in court’ in commercial and tax litigation, and Abylkhair Nakipov is ‘a very proactive, responsive and well-qualified professional’.
Synergy Partners Law Firm LLC provides ‘a high-level service’ in the M&A, corporate and tax sectors. Alzhan Stamkulov is ‘consistently available at short notice’ and ‘proactive’; he advised China Development Bank on a planned $400m loan to Ekibastuz power plant via a Russian bank. Nurzhan Stamkulov gives ‘professional and proper advice’.
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