Meet The “Fight Club” Where The Mega-Rich Hash Out Their Legal Problems

What is the “fight club” best known for oligarchs, billionaires and the mega rich to hash out their problems? It is, of course, the commercial courts at the Royal Courts of London. The London courts are a popular destination for the mega rich to battle things out because they offer strict privacy that ensures that litigants don’t have to share their business with the world when they don’t want to.

As Bloomberg pointed out on Monday, journalists routinely make a day of heading to commercial court in London and trying to distinguish between the John Does and the Jane Does – listed as simply “A” and “B” on London court documents – to find out where the high profile cases are being heard. 

On a sunny Friday morning in central London, journalists were looking for A v B, a case scheduled for London’s commercial court.

Finding the lawsuit could lead to illuminating details about a fascinating case of sanctions, alleged corruption and mines producing a metal used in Tesla Inc. batteries.

London’s commercial court has been at the center of numerous high profile recent cases.

For instance, there was this $1.5 billion judgement that was upheld just days ago against billionaire Vijay Mallya in the high court:

Embattled liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, undergoing an extradition trial in a UK court over fraud and money laundering charges by Indian authorities, on Tuesday lost a lawsuit filed by 13 Indian banks in the UK High Court seeking to collect from him more than USD 1.55 billion.

Judge Andrew Henshaw refused to overturn a worldwide order freezing 62-year-old Mallya’s assets and upheld an Indian court’s ruling that a consortium of 13 Indian banks were entitled to recover funds amounting to nearly USD 1.55 billion (1.145 billion pounds).

And FT found in 2014 that 75% of litigants in commercial cases in London were foreigners. 

More than three-quarters of those who use London’s commercial court to settle disputes are from outside the UK, according to new figures. Research shows that European litigants from outside the UK accounted for 24 per cent of all parties in commercial court rulings during the past 12 months. There has also been a growth in litigants from the Middle East and north Africa who now account for 11 per cent of the total. Litigants from Eurasia – which includes Russia and Kazakhstan – make up 11.5 per cent of litigants. The data from Portland Legal Disputes analysed 141 High Court rulings between April 2013 and March 2014 to identify the nationality of the parties. The figures were then compared with previous years.

But the case of last week, when reporters flooded the courthouse looking for information on a high profile suit between Glencore Plc and its former partner, they were tasked with finding out which courtrooms held “A” vs “B” cases. From there, they use a little social engineering and instincts to basically try and guess whether or not they’re in the courtroom for the case they are seeking. 

This guessing system can backfire for both the litigants and the reporters. Litigants often find nosy reporters checking in on their courtrooms out of simple curiosity and reporters sometimes stumble into courtrooms that don’t house what they’re looking for, as was the case last Friday in London:

What reporters didn’t find is what they’d been looking for: the legal show-down between commodity trader Glencore Plc and its former partner, Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler.

So the London reporters scrambled to Court 25 on the third floor. After some inquiries led to no clear answers, the room seemed the best bet — more than a dozen suited lawyers crammed into a small chamber with onlookers in the back.

But it was the wrong hearing. Instead, it turned out to be a case brought by oil-rich Angola, which is trying to recover funds from Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the debonair son of the former president and the manager of the nation’s sovereign wealth fund until January. Angola accuses him of a $500 million fraud, which he denies.

So it goes: the reputation for London’s commercial court is now starting to disrupt the privacy it was once heralded for in the first place.

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