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Gide Opens Tehran Office

Christophe EckChristophe Eck

Much ink has flowed on the advantages of investing in Iran as an emerging market, particularly following the lifting of economic sanctions on the country in 2016.

A large number of foreign companies have entered Iran in the meantime and many local players expanded their businesses overseas.

However, complications still remain. Some of the US sanctions have lingered even after the implementation of the nuclear deal. Further convoluting the narrative is US President Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric on the Iran deal.  In such a climate, the role of legal experts who can navigate a business deal's path smoothly and profitably is of paramount importance.

In response to this demand, the French firm Gide has opened an office in Tehran, joining the small ranks of international law firms that have lately entered Iran. The inaugural ceremony held on Tuesday was attended by France’s former foreign minister and senior advisor at Gide, Hubert Vedrine, and French Ambassador to Iran François Sénémaud.

Gide Loyrette Nouel is an independent French law firm with headquarters in Paris. It is one of the rare international leading law firms to have originated in continental Europe rather than the UK or US.

The firm currently employs some 1,200 people, spread out over 15 offices in 13 countries. It has more than 600 attorneys and legal consultants, including 100 partners, covering 40 nationalities. The office in Tehran will be led by former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher regulatory counsel, Mehrnoosh Aryanpour. She joined the French firm as a partner in January, ahead of its Iran launch.

Paris-based Christophe Eck will also lead Gide’s operations in Iran, having been Gide’s managing partner in 2010 and 2011. They are currently supported by two associates who have joined from local Iranian firms.

The team in Gide Tehran will be able to draw on the support of all the practice groups and other international offices of the firm, according to the company’s press release.

The firm is not aligning with a local firm in the region and will practice in Iran under its own name. It will advise French and international companies on operations in the country, while assisting domestic corporations in advisory and litigation matters.

Aryanpour, in particular, will advise on sanctions and export controls for companies in the transport, energy and infrastructure sectors. Gide has had a presence in the Middle East since 1978 when it opened its Riyadh office in response to the second oil crisis.

Despite advising clients in Saudi Arabia, Gide has few offices in the Middle East. This followed a review in 2010, which saw the firm close three Middle East offices—in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Riyadh.

Since the closure, Gide partners based in Paris, Istanbul and North Africa instead have led the firm’s operations in the area, working closely with its four hubs in Algiers, Casablanca, Istanbul and Tunis.

Harbinger of Improving Iran-France Ties

Tehran-Paris economic ties entered a new level following the lifting of sanctions.

The oil and gas giant Total, the automaker Renault and the aerospace manufacturer Airbus rushed for a piece of the sizable Iranian market post-JCPOA and are now active in the country.

Gide’s presence in Iran can be the next French move for further boosting relations between the two countries' investors and businesspeople.

French officials believe Gide can help improve things in various ways. The presence of a professional law firm can make the investment climate even more appealing to other large companies eying Iran, as it will radiate a sense of security to foreign investors.

Accordingly, Gide will enable global investors to have a thorough understanding of investment risk here and ways to manage it, alongside advising on deals based on the latest global standards.

“Gide has been established as the only international French law firm in Iran and I believe its presence here can help other successful companies to also make a foray into the country,” Védrine said during the opening ceremony.

The former diplomat also praised Gide for entering Iran despite the United States’ anti-JCPOA stance, describing the French companies’ increasing deals with Iran as “smart” and “strategic”.

“We believe Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, and so do Europe, Russia and China. Yet, the Republicans do not agree with the deal and there’s a chance that Trump might go ahead to kill it. However, there is still no general consensus between all the decision-makers in the US,” he said.

Védrine pointed to “financial issues” as the most important factor limiting Iran’s business ties with other countries, most of which is due to American sanctions preventing Iran from using the dollar in banking transactions.

He noted, however, that the Iranian economy will continue to grow, even if the limitations are not lifted.

“At any rate, there are a number of American [companies] that want to do business in Iran just like others,” Vedrine said.

Speaking at the same gathering, the French ambassador also underlined France's commitment to JCPOA and stressed his country's support for Iran. Sénémaud noted that Gide's presence will help drive the two countries' economies because of the cultural and legal similarities between Iran and France.

Baudouin de Moucheron, a senior partner at Gide, who also addressed the ceremony, said, "What makes a law firm successful is primarily the quality of its team. Gide has already hunted down some of the best lawyers on Iran and is still on the lookout for more."

Aryanpour, the head of Gide’s Tehran office, noted that earlier, most of Iran’s top lawyers would flock to neighboring countries such as Oman and the UAE for work, and never come back due to lack of opportunities back home.

"With Gide’s presence in Iran, this limitation is changing," she declared.

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