Ethiopian Supreme Court Refuses to Annul a London Arbitral Award

The Cassation bench of the Supreme Court of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has on July 14, 2019 rejected Agricom International’s (Swiss) plea for the annulment of an arbitral award in favor of the Ethiopian Trading and Business Corporation (ETBC). The final award was made in London by a five-member GAFTA (Grain and Feed Trade Association) Appeals Tribunal on 27 February 2018. The First Tier Tribunal’s final award followed a web of consolidated appeals before the Commercial Bench of the English High Court

Agricom’s annulment petition to the Ethiopian Supreme Court was based on the Supreme Court’s own precedent in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) Case No. 2013-32 (Consta JV v. CDE). In that case, the Supreme Court annulled an arbitral award for error of the interpretation and application of Ethiopian law. It exercised jurisdiction because the legal seat of the arbitration was Addis Ababa although the case was administered by the PCA and heard in The Hague.

Agricom argued before the Supreme Court that under PCA Case No. 2013-32, the Supreme Court had reaffirmed its constitutional mandate to be the final arbiter of all questions of Ethiopian law regardless of where the tribunal might have been seated. It further argued that because the applicable substantive law in the Agricom case was Ethiopian law, the Court had jurisdiction to review for reversible error. ETBC, on the other hand, argued that the Agricom case is fundamentally distinguishable from the Consta case because, unlike the Consta case, the legal seat of the Tribunal was in London, not Addis Ababa, which gives the English courts the exclusive supervisory jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed with ETBC’s position and dismissed Agricom’s annulment petition. This is a remarkable clarification of its own jurisprudence on annulment of arbitral awards in Ethiopia. This annulment petition was the last potential obstacle to ETBC’s enforcement effort.

In this case, both parties were represented by prominent Ethiopian lawyers: Alemu Denekew (who also served as an expert witness in the London judicial and arbitral proceedings) for Agricom, and Dr. Zewdineh Beyene Haile (who also led a group of international lawyers in the London judicial and arbitral proceedings as a part of Addis Law Group) for ETBC.

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