Faraj Ahnish: Libya's legal champion in the UAE

Profile: Faraj Ahnish has helped to transform Hadef & Partners into a big legal player. But currently his priority is arranging aid and a constitution for Libya, where he grew up.

Chris Burke for The National
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Faraj Ahnish is one of the UAE's sharpest and busiest legal minds.

The prominent lawyer advises the Government on legislation, and as managing partner of Hadef & Partners in Abu Dhabi, he oversees day-to-day operations at one of the biggest Emirati local firms. More recently, he has begun to help to arrange aid for Libya and draft a constitution for a new government in the country where he grew up.

Biobox: Faraj Ahnish Managing partner of Hadef & Partners

Since 1990, he has been the managing director of Hadef, managing day-to-day operations at the law firm.

Wrote a book, The International Law of Maritime Boundaries and the Practice of States in the Mediterranean Area, published in 1993 by Clarendon Press.

Is licensed to appear in the UAE's federal courts.

With his strong ties to Libya, Mr Ahnish has long been involved with causes there. He got his first law degree from Benghazi university before studying international law in Britain at Hull and Cambridge universities. He is also a trustee of World For Libya, a UK-registered charity founded soon after popular unrest began in February.

In another of his many roles in law and business, he is a senior adviser to the Mercantile Group, a London-based investment company that has offices in Tripoli. The company was founded by Mohamed Moussa, who formed Libya's home and immigration departments and the Libyan Social Security fund after independence from Italy in 1951 but left politics before Muammar Qaddafi took over in the late 1960s.

The Mercantile Group last year said it was building Libya's largest private hospital, and has made numerous investments across the region, including in Arqaam Capital, an investment bank in Dubai. It is also a large shareholder in Mediterranean Bank, one of Benghazi's largest banks.

Mr Ahnish has been practising law in the Emirates virtually since Hadef's founding in 1980, when it was called Hadef Al Dhahiri & Associates after its founder, the UAE's Minister of Justice. Back then, Mr Ahnish recalls, it was a boutique firm with just a few support staff. But he and the other partners have transformed it into a firm with about 80 full-time lawyers.

Hadef added 10 more lawyers this summer, partly to address growing demand for legal services after the global financial crisis.

"The legal landscape in the UAE continues to evolve and we experience a growing demand for our specialised legal service and depth of knowledge of local law and practice," Mr Ahnish said after the additions. "Our large litigation and arbitration teams are also very busy as the volume of disputes continues to develop."

In his tenure at Hadef, Mr Ahnish has both championed and helped to shape legal reforms, including laws that set the stage for the public listings of some of the country's biggest companies. Many companies seeking listings on UAE markets still use the legal procedures and prospectus formats Hadef pioneered. As part of his contribution to the development of local markets, he also played a role in the founding of Aldar, Abu Dhabi's biggest property company, in 2005.

He has also had a hand in other laws and reforms. Two years ago, he praised the decision to scrap minimum capital requirements for limited liability companies. That move was meant to remove barriers for business start-ups.

"It's a step forward towards streamlining and opening the environment in the UAE for investments," he said after the minimums were removed. "There's a lot that needs to be done, but this shows the decision-makers are aware of the importance of improving the investment environment."

Mr Ahnish has also had a role in foreign court cases involving Abu Dhabi Government interests. In one case in 2009, he submitted a brief to a Texas court considering a case against a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family. The brief was instrumental in securing a dismissal of the case on the grounds that the defendant was not properly served with legal documents in the UAE.

The brief provided "a sufficient basis for dismissing the claim for lack of jurisdiction without having to consider other motions for dismissal as brought by the defendant", Mr Ahnish wrote in a summary of the case.

Hadef's expansion comes as many law firms in the Emirates look to broaden their footprints in the region after a period of contraction during the crisis. A litany of disputes springing from the financial crisis and a number of major company restructurings have meant more business for many of the country's law firms.

In addition to his role at Hadef, Mr Ahnish is a sponsor and legal adviser to the Abu Dhabi branch of Jasper Capital, an investment banking and management consulting company based in the UK.

He also serves on the human resources advisory committee to the board of Green Crescent Insurance, a company listed in Abu Dhabi.

These days, though, Mr Ahnish is spending much of his time on Libya. Rebels are still fighting for full control of the country as the National Transitional Council - the country's de-facto government - tries to stabilise Tripoli and other cities they have overtaken.

Doctors and medical supplies are needed, something charities such as World for Libya are trying to address. Other needs are likely to emerge, including legal and constitutional matters, in which prominent lawyers such as Mr Ahnish will have a key role.