Interview: legal titan Sarosh Zaiwalla

  • Share via facebook
  • Tweet this
  • Bookmark and Share

Sarosh Zaiwalla has been in the legal business for over 30 years. Famous as the first Asian to set up a law firm in London, if he ever plans to retire his memoirs will certainly become an instant bestseller as his client list reads like a who’s who of international politics.

He fired a young jobbing barrister by the name of Tony Blair for being unprepared to defend a case. Working for the Indian High Commissioner brought him a caseload of work from the likes of the Gandhi family and Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, while the Dalai Lama personally met him and asked him to try and broker a settlement with the Chinese.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent his associates to try and persuade him to represent the regime in a legal action against the US before the second Gulf War. In 2007, he flew to Dubai and escorted former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto to London and had dinner with her, where she said she was determined to match him up with a wife.

While his waiting list also currently includes the Kazakh, Mongolian and Chinese governments, Zaiwalla’s current focus is on the Middle East and a real hot topic: Iran. The Indian-born lawyer filed a case at Britain’s Commercial Court, on 14 February, on behalf of Bank Mellat, Iran’s biggest lender.

The filing stems from a previous case which the bank brought against the UK government and in which Zaiwalla successfully argued in the UK Supreme Court that sanctions issued against the lender were unlawful. The bank is now claiming damages.

It is estimated the amount will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and was initially estimated at around £500m ($825m), but some latest reports have claimed the eventual amount awarded could run as high as $4bn. Zaiwalla says this is the first time a successful Iranian plaintiff against sanctions in Europe has pursued a damages claim: “It is a test case; it is very much a test case... The legal position is this: The Supreme Court has referred the matter back to the High Court to determine the loss.

“There are forensic accountants involved... We would argue that the UK government has to pay the loss which is equivalent to [the amount] required to put Bank Mellat back in a position as it would have been if this listing had not taken place. There is no dispute on liability, it is just the loss. It is straightforward in that liability will not be an issue but the quantity will be an issue.”

Zaiwalla believes the case’s likely positive outcome will lead to a flood of similar hearings.

“The decision that the British government had singled out Bank Mellat without rational and valid legal ground could prove a precedent-setting case that has wider reaching implications for Western sanctions against Iran and could lead to further payouts,” he says. “To my knowledge, there are ten other private Iranian companies bringing lawsuits in Europe and Iranian state entities are also beginning to take legal action.

Article continued on next page...

Join the Discussion

Disclaimer:The view expressed here by our readers are not necessarily shared by Arabian Business, its employees, sponsors or its advertisers.

Please post responsibly. Commenter Rules

  • No comments yet, be the first!

Enter the words above: Enter the numbers you hear:

All comments are subject to approval before appearing

Further reading

Features & Analysis
Events that moved the markets

Events that moved the markets

What, if anything, have we learnt from past crises that have...

A country on hold: Oman's next step?

A country on hold: Oman's next step?

The Gulf state has been relatively stable under the rule of one...

Saudi king keeps close hand on oil in remodelling strategic team

Saudi king keeps close hand on oil in remodelling strategic team

King is clearly laying the ground for a generational shift in...

Most Discussed
  • 12
    Has Narendra Modi already lost the plot?

    Modi was quiet all along and did not utter a word regarding the attacks on minorities and their institutions. It took Obama's address to him to atleast... more

    Saturday, 28 March 2015 2:25 AM - Ali
  • 11
    Nakheel PR: The toughest job in Dubai?

    On service charges.

    We were overcharged for years by Nakheel so that those loans could be paid back.

    The dramatic cuts have come to nothing... more

    Friday, 27 March 2015 7:32 PM - Pondersome George
  • 6
    Drunk passenger who slapped air stewardess jailed in Dubai

    Its high time airlines ban alcoholic drinks on board or limit it to just one drink. There are many passengers who love the free alcohol and keep drinking... more

    Saturday, 28 March 2015 2:25 AM - Azk