Walkers opens new office focusing on growth in Middle East market

Offshore legal and hedge funds specialist Walkers has opened the first fully transactional law firm office in the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC).


The move has been driven by Dubai's emergence as a leader in the global capital markets, coupled with the firm's commitment to its clients in the region. The office will be staffed jointly with a combination of regional lawyers and leading attorneys from London who specialize in Islamic finance and Middle Eastern issues.


Over the past two years, the equity markets in Dubai have been among the world's top performers, with a 41 per cent increase since 1998, and now total around USD 1 billion. Current estimates call for this trend to accelerate and reach a total of between USD 2.1 and USD 2.6 billion by 2007. In addition, more than 80 per cent of the investment in the region is currently offshore, increasing the need for the local business community to draw on international expertise.


"As the formation of investment funds, private equity funds, and Sukuks -- a type of Islamic bond -- continues to soar, the need to provide global counsel has grown too," says Grant Stein, Walkers' Senior Partner. "Coupled with Walkers' expertise in investment funds, structured finance, and international insolvency matters -- as well as our offices in the Cayman Islands, London, the British Virgin Islands, and Hong Kong -- we can now offer our worldwide clients an even broader range of products and services.


 "It is clear that having counsel in-country in Dubai doing the transactional work in the same time zone and same culture is vitally important to getting the job done," he adds.


The Dubai office will be led by managing partner Rod Palmer and partner Robert Varley, who will oversee business development in the Middle East. Palmer is experienced in Islamic finance and has launched numerous Shariah-compliant funds -- funds that comply with Islamic law. He has also advised on high-profile US IPOs of Cayman companies, as well as private equity, hedge and other investment funds.


Varley has counselled clients on a wide variety of Cayman Islands legal matters and specializes in investment funds, including Islamic-acceptable financial products. He has advised on many of the pioneering UK and European real estate Shariah funds, a large number of MENA region Shariah funds, some of the first Islamic-acceptable segregated portfolio companies and the world's first listed corporate Sukuk.


According to a recent survey by McKinsey & Company, more than 75 per cent of the top 30 global asset managers are now active in Dubai. The MAN Group plc, a leading hedge fund group that has operated in the Gulf Cooperation Council region (GCC) for more than 20 years and was part of the McKinsey survey, reported an upswing of institutional investments in hedge funds.


"Also driving the need for greater offshore legal expertise in Dubai are the international entities who invest in the GCC region through British Virgin Islands companies and regional investment in United Kingdom commercial real estate," says Palmer. "With Walkers' strong presence and experience in those jurisdictions, we can now provide a complete suite of offshore legal service to our clients in Dubai."


Positioned between New York and London in the West and Hong Kong in the East, Dubai connects the region to the global financial market. The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), a financial free zone that promotes economic development in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a strong regulatory framework based on best practices of the world's leading financial centers and led by experienced regulators. Companies in Dubai recognize multiple benefits from the jurisdiction, including zero tax on income and profits, 100 percent foreign ownership, no restrictions on foreign exchange or capital/profit repatriation, operational support, and business continuity facilities.


Background notes: Based in the Cayman Islands with offices in the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, and London, Walkers offers a global offshore solution for clients across the offshore legal spectrum. Walkers SPV Limited (WSPV) is a Cayman Islands licensed trust company and a wholly owned affiliate of Walkers with offices in the Cayman Islands and Tokyo. Walkers is regulated in the Cayman Islands under the Banks and Trust Companies Law and holds an unrestricted mutual fund administrator license. In certain circumstances, WSPV offers Director and Trustee and Corporate Administration services to investment funds and Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs).


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