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May 1, 2008

Leasing Life’s monthly profile of a law firm’s leasing department

By Verdict Staff

Historically, asset finance has been a central part of Denton Wilde Sapte’s banking heritage, with some founding partners who were asset finance lawyers. Today, with 30 asset finance lawyers worldwide, and with a focus on most asset classes, it is among the larger of UK asset finance legal teams.

The growth of the department has been steady in terms of numbers and turnover, despite the recent credit crunch. However, head of asset finance department, Matthew Harvey, says as a result of “the leasing market having changed a lot in the last couple of years”, the department has had to “ adapt” as a result of changes in “tax-based lease work”.

Coinciding with these changes to UK leasing have been a number of opportunities coming available elsewhere.

Nick Chandler – leading aviation finance partner at the firm – explains: “Historically the firm has had very strong links with the Middle East and these are now paying dividends. So DWS looked to the so-called emerging markets, in particular the CIS and the Middle East. We now have nine offices in the Middle East, more than any other international firm in the region.”

DWS was one of the first Western firms to establish a strong Middle Eastern presence, and claims to be a leader in a region which many other international firms are still trying to crack.

This goes hand in hand with the firm’s strength in Islamic finance, which began with work on the shipping side but has since gradually permeated its way down the firm.

On the shipping side, head of shipping finance, Tony Rice, has recently worked on a multifaceted Islamic finance structure for a syndicate of banks led by Standard Chartered Banks and RBS. The structured syndicated Islamic finance facility was constructed to provide pre- and post-delivery finance for the construction of various vessels in three separate ship yards in Russia, Ukraine and Abu Dhabi.

Russia is another significant growth area for the firm.

Chandler says: “As the entire infrastructure is being overhauled, the Russians are beginning to recognise they need to use Western as well as home-built equipment, so in the aviation field for instance we see them buying Boeing and Airbus aircraft as well as aircraft built by Russian manufacturers.”

Chandler, who has over 20 years’ experience in the aviation industry, has noticed a significant increase in corporate jet financings over the last two years. The recent tumult of the aviation sector is bringing a further business line to Dentons, which also has significant expertise in restructuring and insolvency.

The credit crunch has not brought a change in activity levels, but rather Harvey is seeing the balance of work evolve.

He says: “We are seeing less bank work and shifting on the airline side and deals are also taking longer to get credit through.”

Other significant recent deals include acting on behalf of a number of lessors to the CHC Helicopter Corporation, a provider of helicopter services to oil and gas sector which was recently taken private. The takeover led to the restructuring of 100 leases of varying structures.

Not all deals, however, are cross-border. Nationally, Greg Kahn a partner of the asset finance group who has been with Dentons for over 20 years, has represented RBS on lease financing facilities for refurbished water mains for various UK water companies (see Deals section below).

With a well established client-base and its strength in the Middle East, Harvey is quietly confident about the prospects of the group.

Firm name: Denton Wilde Sapte

Head of Asset Finance Department: Matthew Harvey

No of full-time AF partners in London office: 6, and 3 focusing on tax-based financings

Offices: London, Milton Keynes, Paris, Almaty, Moscow, Tashkent, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Dubai, Muscat, Doha

Key clients: GE Capital Solutions, RBS, Barclays, Lloyds, ING Lease, Cisco systems, Cooperative Bank, National Australia Bank, Alliance and Leicester, Capital Corp, HSBC, HBOS

Asset finance sectors: All general leasing, including aviation, shipping, rail, film, tax-based financings, software financings

Denton Wilde Sapte: recent leasing deals

Helena Duong

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