In 2020, the Russian legislative body made amendments to the Russian Arbitrazh (Commercial) Procedural Code (APC) to establish the exclusive jurisdiction of Russian Arbitrazh Courts in cases involving individuals and entities subject to sanctions. According to the newly introduced Article 248.1 of the APC, Russian courts would exercise exclusive jurisdiction over disputes involving sanctioned individuals and entities; unless there exists an agreement between the parties stating otherwise. The exclusive jurisdiction of Russian courts under Article 248.1(4) is triggered if:
- The dispute resolution clause states that a dispute must be resolved in an overseas court or through arbitration.
- The clause becomes inoperative due to sanctions against a party, creating obstacles to access to justice for that party.
If proceedings are either pending or about to commence in a foreign court or arbitration, the sanctioned individual has the option to petition the Russian court to issue an anti-suit injunction against the opposing party, as outlined in Article 248.2 of the APC.
In the recent case of Renaissance Securities (Cyprus) Ltd v Chlodwig Enterprises Ltd & Others  EWHC 2816 (Comm), the English High Court granted an anti-suit injunction (ASI) and an anti-anti-suit injunction (AASI) to a company for the purposes of preventing the defendants in the case, who were subject to UK and US sanctions, from bringing proceedings in Russia under Article 248 of the APC.
Background to the decision
Renaissance Securities (Cyprus) Limited (RenSec), an investment services company, executed Investment Services Agreements (ISAs) with the defendants, who included companies under the control of a Russian person designated as a sanctioned person by OFSI in the UK as well as a person subject to US OFAC sanctions. These companies were designated as holding assets for trusts benefiting sanctioned persons. In the case of a dispute, the ISAs, subject to English law, stipulated for LCIA arbitration with a seat in London.
RenSec managed substantial sums and securities for each defendant. When the defendants requested the transfer of assets held by RenSec, blocked due to sanctions, to Russian bank accounts, RenSec declined, citing potential breaches of US, EU, and/or UK sanctions. In response, the defendants threatened legal action in the ‘appropriate forum.’
Shortly thereafter, RenSec discovered that the defendants had initiated proceedings in the Russian courts, seeking damages equivalent to its blocked assets in Russia. Subsequently, RenSec applied for an ASI and an AASI in the English Court.
The application was conducted without notifying the defendants and in private, as there was a genuine concern that the defendants might seek their own ASI and/or AASI if informed. Such actions, along with potential publicity, would undermine the purpose of the application.
What are the legal principles (England and Wales) regarding anti-suit injunctions?
By issuing proceedings in a foreign court in situations where an Arbitration Agreement provides for arbitration to be conducted in England and Wales, the defendants were in breach of contract, and English courts can therefore grant an ASI preventing a party from bringing a claim in another jurisdiction. In The Angelic Grace  1 Lloyd’s Rep 87, Lord Millet robustly stated (at page 96):
“There is no good reason for diffidence in granting an injunction to restrain foreign proceedings on the clear and simple ground that the defendant has promised not to bring them.”
An AASI is designed to guarantee that actions taken by an applicant to safeguard and uphold its contractual rights, including the implementation of an ASI, are not made ineffective or futile by pre-emptive measures or counteractions taken by the respondent. The principles governing the issuance of an AASI closely mirror those applied to an ASI. In cases where foreign proceedings have been brought despite a clear Arbitration Agreement, the courts in England and Wales have granted an AASI to force the respondent to bring any commenced proceedings to a halt.
What did the High Court decide in Renaissance Securities?
After examining the evidence, Mrs Justice Dias ruled that the Russian proceedings were brought in “flagrant” breach of the Arbitration Agreement. Furthermore, this was a deliberate choice on the part of the defendants as they were under no legal obligation to bring proceedings under Article 248 of the APC. It was therefore just and convenient for the Court to grant the ASI because if the application in Russia was allowed to carry on, a ruling in the defendants favour could allow them to bypass the sanctions regime by obtaining judgment in Russia and then enforcing it against RenSec’s assets which were currently frozen in that jurisdiction.
In addition, Mrs Justice Dias observed that:
“…evidence is that the Russian courts are unlikely to consider foreign sanctions a legitimate excuse for RenSec’s failure to comply with the Defendants’ instructions. Indeed, this is entirely plausible given that the rationale for the introduction of Article 248 in the first place seems to have been to permit Russian entities to bypass the effects of sanctions. Accordingly, RenSec is unlikely to be able to rely on the imposition of sanctions as a defence to the Defendants’ claims in Russia, whereas this is a matter which an LCIA tribunal would no doubt at least take into account in considering whether RenSec was in breach of contract or not.”
Given that the evidence showed it was likely that the defendants would try and obtain ASIs in the Russian courts in breach of the English court’s exclusive jurisdiction over any arbitration proceedings, Mrs Justice Dias granted an AASI to prevent the defendants from taking any such action.
Due to the ASI and AASI being granted, the defendants will have no choice but to terminate any Russian proceedings under Article 248 of the APC. Failing to do so means that they risk contempt of court in England and Wales. This case illustrates that where an Arbitration Agreement is in place, an ASI and AASI provides a tactical tool for ensuring the terms of the agreement are upheld and can prevent sanctioned entities from circumventing the agreement via Article 248. In addition, Mrs Justice Dias’s decisions shows that the English High Court will grant an ASI and AASI to protect the interests of a non-sanctioned party who has assets in Russia which are vulnerable to enforcement of a Russian judgment granted in favour of a sanctioned entity.
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Note: The points in this article reflect sanctions in place at the time of writing, 30 November 2023. This article does not constitute legal advice. For further information, please contact our London office.
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