Middle East emerges as deal hotbed

WHEN The Lawyer published the top global project finance deals of the first half of 2006 in July, five of them were from the Middle East and four of those were in the hotbed of big-ticket activity that is Saudi Arabia.

The list of firms appearing as advisers on those deals thre up some familiar faces: Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters from the magic circle, along with UK firms Ashurst and Herbert Smith.

From the US stable, Baker & McKenzie, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy and White & Case all had roles on those deals.

All of these firms are well known for their project finance mcapability. And the continued roll-out of multibillion-pound deals across the Middle East justifies the emphasis the firms are placing on their offices in the region.

All the firms listed above have a presence in the Middle East – with the current exception of Herbert Smith, which is expected to launch on office in Dubai within months.

However, a lack of a presence in the region did not stop Herbert Smith securing a key role on the biggest project in the Middle East this year – the $9.8bn (5.27bn) PetroRabigh oil and gas facility. The firm advised a key client of its Tokyo office, Sumitomo Chemicals, on its joint venture with Saudi Aramco, advised by White & Case as project sponsors.

Clifford Chance, which has the largest Middle East office of magic circle firms with 44 lawyers, topped the league tables for global legal advisers on infrastructure projects in the first half of 2006, advising on 17 deals worth some $24.5bn (13.17bn).

The research, compiled by Infrastructure Journal, showed magic circle rival A&O was the most active firm in the sector in the timeframe, closing 19 deals worth a total of $10.9bn (5.86bn).

Six UK firms featured in the top 10 in the global league table. Herbert Smith was placed third with five deals worth $12.5bn (6.72bn), while Linklaters placed seventh with 11 deals worth $8.8bn (4.73bn).