One Sheikh, Two Wives, Seven Children, Multiple Court Proceedings, and a variety of litigation twists, turns, and blunders

Mr. Justice Hellman’s recent judgment in the case of AK Bakri & Sons Ltd et al v Al Bakri et al [2017] SC Bda 40 Com, handed down on 26 May 2017 is almost stranger than fiction.

In essence, the case appears to be a bitter corporate and family dispute between two sides of a Sheikh’s family (those connected to his first wife, and those connected to his second wife), each of whom claim to be the rightful shareholders and controllers of AK Bakri & Sons Ltd, a Bermudian holding company for a variety of Middle Eastern shipping, energy and financial services companies and assets.

The procedural and jurisdictional wranglings in the Bermuda litigation appear to have been extremely tortuous (whether contrived by accident or design, it’s not entirely clear).

One of the oddest aspects of the case is that the Plaintiffs voluntarily started Court proceedings in Bermuda, including issuing a Writ and filing/serving a detailed Statement of Claim, only then to make an application for a stay of the Bermuda proceedings in favour of Saudi Arabian arbitration or litigation.

The Judge described this change of approach on the part of the Plaintiffs as “surprising”, and he does not appear to have been particularly impressed by the Plaintiffs’ own explanation of their position as being due to a “blunder”.

The Judge refused the Plaintiffs’ application for a stay of their own proceedings (absent any exceptional circumstances), and he went one step further, by granting the Defendants’ application for an anti-suit injunction designed to prevent the pursuit of multiple proceedings relating to the same subject matter in Saudi Arabia.

The Defendants’ litigation position does not appear to have been entirely perfect, however (although this might have been contributed to by the sudden change of lawyers that was forced upon them due to circumstances beyond their control), resulting in the discharge of an interim freezing injunction that had previously been granted in their favour.

No doubt a variety of interlocutory appeals and applications are set to follow, before this case ever makes its way to a final hearing and judgment. If this litigation continues the way that it has apparently begun, it looks like it has all the ingredients for a best-selling airport novel.

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