Tell us a bit about your background
I graduated from the Inns School of Law, London, became a member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn and was admitted as a barrister-in-law in July 1978. In May 1979, I joined the Judicial and Legal Service and served for 4 years as a Magistrate, Deputy Public Prosecutor and Senior Assistant Registrar of the High Court. In May 1983, I joined Shell Malaysia as its Legal Advisor and worked under various portfolios in its Legal Department.
I also worked in the offices of Shell International, London and The Hague where I gained valuable international exposure. I served 2½ years as Legal Adviser of Sarawak Shell Berhad and Sabah Shell Petroleum Company Limited which are both Shell’s upstream companies engaged in exploration and production of oil and gas. My last post in Shell was as General Counsel for Shell Companies in Malaysia for Oil Products (Downstream).
Not many people know that I started my career as an Interpreter in the Sessions Court in Kota Bharu, Kelantan and later was a Trust officer in the Public Trustee’s office in Penang. After being legally qualified, I was appointed as a Magistrate in Penang in 1979.
How long have you been in practice with Azmi & Associates?
My knowledge covers a wide area of practices; however, Oil & Gas (“O&G“), Trust and Estate Planning, as well as Dispute Resolution, have always been interesting topics for me. Lately, Competition Law practice is also an area I have seen developing since my days in Shell. In AzmiLaw, I am usually the first point of reference for these areas of practice. I am proud to say that I am a point of reference in many areas and I am always ready to share my experience and provide a second opinion on any matters referred to me.
What areas of work have you been closely involved in and interesting projects you have worked on?
Cross-border disputes: There was an interesting arbitration begun by a listed company in Malaysia which was majority owned by a State Government. AzmiLaw acted as a Malaysian counsel and we worked with an international English law firm. Proceedings were conducted in the London Court of International Arbitration and we successfully obtained judgment for our client. We then had to execute the judgment in 5 jurisdictions and engaged 5 sets of lawyers. This case provided tremendous experience in understanding the various jurisdictions, the court systems as well as the procedures. Unfortunately, very little was recovered but the client now realises the attributes of conducting cross-border business and the need of having to conduct adequate due diligence before venturing overseas. For AzmiLaw and I, it was a good learning experience.
Oil & Gas: I have to record two major O&G projects undertaken by me. One involved the drafting of policies and procedures as well as the necessary agreements for the use by third parties of pipelines belonging to a major O&G operator in Malaysia. The other involved a major due diligence for the purchase of substantial interest valued at approximately USD2 billion in a group of upstream companies with exploration and production in Malaysia.
Arbitration: I acted as an arbitrator in a dispute involving a statutory body and a KLSE-listed company. The dispute arose out of a shareholders’ agreement and options available to one of the parties. The arbitral award is now the subject matter of cross-appeals in the Court of Appeal. I have acted as co-counsel in an arbitration proceeding involving another statutory body and its contractor. I am currently involved in a potential arbitration matter with the possibility of having multiple arbitrations.
What are your thoughts on Malaysia’s ability to attract international trade based on its current Oil & Gas framework?
Malaysia has the world’s fourteenth largest natural gas reserves and twenty-third largest crude oil reserves. The oil and gas industry has been identified as one of the National Key Economic Areas to fuel national growth under Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Programme and therefore receives prioritised Government of Malaysia support due to its economic opportunities for the private sector.
The Malaysian O&G market is a very attractive market with further growth for potential investors and PETRONAS plays a major role in driving the industry’s growth through its development of O&G resources, as well as the creation of opportunities for local companies. The total CAPEX to be invested in the Exploration & Production (“E&P“) sector in Malaysia is projected to be substantial over the next 5 years until 2020. Even though the price of oil has fallen sharply, there are still opportunities which must not be missed by E&P players as well as service providers.
Are there any emerging trends in O&G practice that you have noted?
On the Malaysian Stock Exchange front, the introduction of the Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (“SPACs”) initial public offering (IPO) structure as a fundraising vehicle has culminated in 4 companies namely, Hibiscus Petroleum, Cliq Energy, Sona Petroleum and Reach Energy being listed on the Bursa Malaysia raising funds between US$100m–$160m and all were for E&P activities. There are other SPACs that are currently seeking regulatory initial public offering approvals and they are also planning to go into E&P activities. Whilst, the assets are generally located outside of Malaysia, nevertheless, the strength of the management of these SPAC companies has been derived from the Malaysian O&G industry players over the years. Hibiscus Petroleum was successful in acquiring qualifying assets in Norway and Australia. Cliq Energy, Sona Petroleum and Reach Energy are still looking to acquire controlling interest in O&G assets as qualifying assets as part of the requirement in their IPOs.
What are your thoughts on recent market activities & future trends in the O&G sector?
The O&G sector in Malaysia is expected to consolidate further.
In mid-2013, Newfield Exploration embarked on a divestment exercise to sell its O&G assets in Malaysia in order to focus on their businesses in the United States. Sapura Kencana in its strive to move upstream, successfully acquired the assets for approximately US$900 million.
Following Newfield, another American oil company, Murphy Oil has agreed to sell 30% of its upstream O&G assets in Malaysia to PT Pertamina, a company owned by the Indonesian Government. The exercise has immensely attracted bids from both international and regional E&P players.
With the drastic fall in oil prices, the industry analysts generally anticipate that mergers and acquisitions will be taking place in the sector as one of the factors to maintain sustainability and investment activities.
What are your contributions or rather something significant that you have made to the legal fraternity?
I will say that my most significant contribution would be training and educating young lawyers for more than 14 years. I allocate time to give briefings to pupils and young lawyers who join Azmi & Associates. I share with them my experience as an in-house counsel and corporate lawyer. It has always been my policy to keep my door physically open at all times to allow young lawyers to see me and discuss any problems that they may have. To me, this is part of “Amal Jariah” to share my experience (highlights and challenges) and knowledge with young lawyers.
At this point in your life, what motivates you to come into the office every day?
This is a question that my children ask me from time to time. I am passionate about legal practice which enables me to be able to contribute and be part of a team with such a talented group of young lawyers. It gives me a lot of satisfaction in sharing my knowledge and experience.
It also gives me a lot of pleasure to share my ideas and thoughts with the partners of Azmi & Associates. I will be one of the first to flag to the management any further improvements that can be made in enhancing the productivity and image of AzmiLaw.
Every day is a new day for me and I always look forward to coming to the office because there are things which are required to be done which are still exciting and rewarding. AzmiLaw provides adequate space and environment for me to live my passion.