Monday, December 4, 2023

Kenyan lawyer joins World Bank-backed tribunal

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Veteran lawyer and senior counsel Kamau Karori has been appointed to a tribunal by the World Bank-backed International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

He sits on the panel that will hear the case of British citizen Brian Malcolm Thomson against Tanzania.

Mr Thomson and Mauritius-registered Pennyroyal Ltd have accused the Tanzanian government of breaching bilateral investment treaties the East African country has signed with the UK and Mauritius.

Pennyroyal had begun construction of its luxury hotel, the Blue Amber, on 1015 acres of land in Zanzibar when the government revoked the property company’s title deed in 2022.

In revoking the title deed, Tanzania said 49.4 acres of the land belonged to a third party.

Pennyroyal’s exact financial claim has not yet been made public, but the company had invested $55 million (Sh8.3 billion) when its title deed was revoked.

Mr Karori will hear the case alongside US lawyer John M Townsend and Irish lawyer Michael M Collins, who will act as chairman of the tribunal.

Mr Karori is the first Kenyan and one of the few Africans to sit on an ICSID tribunal. This significant development follows Mr Karori’s nomination by Kenya to the exclusive ICSID panel of arbitrators. During the nomination of panel members in January, Kenya nominated Mr Karori alongside two other lawyers – former Attorney General Githu Muigai and senior arbitrator John Ohaga.

In total, 57 individuals were nominated by 16 Member States.

Mr Karori’s appointment comes at a time when African states are pushing for more of their arbitrators to sit on international arbitral panels, a course that Mr Karori has championed alongside other African arbitration luminaries and institutions.

Other first-time appointees to ICSID tribunals are Irish lawyer Michael Collins and Mohamed Shelbaya.

ICSID is a World Bank-funded dispute settlement body that deals exclusively with disputes between investors and countries, often involving multi-billion dollar contracts.

Mr Karori is the partner in charge of the dispute resolution department at Iseme, Kamau & Maema Advocates, a law firm he co-founded in 2002.

Mr Karori, who was awarded the rank of Senior Counsel in 2022, has been involved in other international arbitration cases, having been appointed lead counsel of the legal team defending Kenya against Cortec Mining Kenya Ltd and Stirling at ICSID between 2015 and 2021.

Cortec and Stirling had sought compensation of Sh200 billion for the termination of their mining licences. But Kenya insisted that the licences had been granted after Cortec allegedly bribed government officials.

ICSID ruled in 2018 that there was no evidence of bribery, but that the licences had been granted in breach of local laws, and therefore dismissed the claims. Kenya was awarded Sh360 million in legal costs.

In 2021, ICSID maintained its position following a request for review by Cortec and Stirling.

The Senior Counsel has sat on both sides of the arbitral tribunal, representing Kenya and several multinational companies in multi-billion shilling claims.

Back home, Mr Karori has been involved in some of the most significant cases, including the landmark BBI case where he represented the Attorney General. He has also represented the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in the 2013, 2017 and 2022 presidential petitions.

Born and raised at the foot of the Cherangany Hills in Trans Nzoia County, Mr Karori graduated from the University of Nairobi Law School in 1993. He was admitted to the Bar in 1996.

The father of four is an alumnus of St Christopher’s Secondary School in Trans Nzoia County. He is a philanthropist and has been involved in the infrastructural development of several institutions in his home county.

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