Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I was seconded to the White & Case Saudi Arabian office from our New York office in the mid-1990s for two years. During my time in the Kingdom we worked on some ground-breaking Shariah compliant structures – including the first adl-based secured project financing in Saudi Arabia. Following Saudi Arabia, I returned to our London office, where we have continued to break new ground with the first Islamic project financing tranches in Qatar, Oman and, most recently, Saudi Arabia with the Rabigh Petrochemical project financing (the largest in the region to date). White & Case has been advising on Islamic financing issues for more than 30 years, but earlier this year we took the decision to formalize our capabilities within an official Islamic Finance Unit.
What does your role involve?
I am co-head of our Islamic Finance Unit with Mohammed Al Sheikh, a partner based in our Riyadh office. In addition to my day-to-day transaction work in the Middle East and elsewhere, I am involved (with Mohammed) in assisting our Islamic finance activity throughout the network. Both Mohammed and I spend a considerable amount of time providing educational seminars to clients (including financial institutions) that have an interest, but limited experience, in dealing with Islamic finance products.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
It has to be the Islamic tranche in the Rabigh Petrochemical project financing in Saudi Arabia that was signed earlier this year. Significant effort was focused by the project sponsors and the Islamic facility participants to develop a structure that worked under the laws of Saudi Arabia. It has set a precedent that will be followed by future deals in the Kingdom.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
One of our key attributes is our ability to navigate uncharted waters on behalf of our clients to deliver innovative solutions that meet their specific needs. We have a proven ability to break new ground with Islamic finance structures; for example the US$2.4 billion financing for the Sohar Aluminium smelter in Oman, which included the first Islamic financing tranche in a project financing in Oman.
What are the strengths of your business?
We have worked hard on building up wide geographical coverage (we are present in 24 countries), with lawyers involved in Islamic finance located throughout our global network, including in London, New York, Riyadh and Singapore. We have also worked hard on ensuring that we have the right mix of skills and industry expertise in order to deliver the best results for our clients. What this means for our clients is that not only can we meet their global needs on a local basis, but we are also able to offer a very strong combination of US, English and domestic legal advice, which can prove a critical factor in getting deals done.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
We know the business needs of our clients and get their deals done.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
Trying to maintain a good “work–life balance.” We make a point of being available to our clients whenever they want and wherever they are located, which can mean this is something of a challenge.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry, maybe in the next five years?
I see the Islamic capital markets; in particular the Sukuk market, playing a more prominent role in project and asset financings. For instance, there are enormous capital requirements in the Middle East over the next 10 years and a number of bank financed projects nearing the refinancing stage. The Sukuk market is well placed to meet this spiralling demand for capital.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
I would like to see some of the mystery surrounding Islamic financing disappear. There is an incorrect perception in my area of practice, project finance, that the products and the process can be more complicated and time consuming than other financial products, which is not the case.
White & Case LLP is a leading global law firm with nearly 2,000 lawyers in 24 countries. Among the first US-based law firms to establish a truly global presence, we provide counsel and representation in virtually every area of law that affects cross-border business. Our clients value both the breadth of our network and depth of our US, English and local law capabilities in each of our offices and rely on us for their complex cross-border transactions, arbitration and litigation. Whether in established or emerging markets, the hallmark of White & Case is our complete dedication to the business priorities and legal needs of our clients.
White & Case has more than 30 years’ experience in the structuring and implementation of financial transactions compliant with Islamic law. The firm has a 25-strong Islamic Finance Unit consisting of specialist lawyers based throughout its global network of offices. Several members of the unit are fluent in Arabic and have received specialized training in the principles and substance of the Shariah at leading academic institutions and either reside permanently in the Middle East or elsewhere in the Islamic world, or have spent considerable periods of time there.