English Court sets aside order enforcing fabricated Kuwaiti arbitral award in “unique” case

In a case which the English High Court described as “unique” and which involved allegations of fraud of the “utmost seriousness”, an order for the enforcement of a £70 million arbitration award has been set aside. The Court found that the award was a fabrication and that the arbitration had never happened.


On 29 February 2024, Mr Justice Butcher set aside his order from last year which had granted leave to enforce an alleged award in favour of the Claimant, Contax Partners Inc BVI (“Contax”), against three companies within the Kuwait Finance House (“KFH”) banking group.

In June last year, Contax ostensibly sought to enforce under section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 an award issued in November 2022 by the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry Commercial Arbitration Centre (“KCAC”) which was rendered under an alleged arbitration agreement made in 2021.

Contax was said to have been represented by a law firm in London, with the claim form, signed by a solicitor, and a witness statement from the same solicitor, indicating that Contax was owed €53 million from KFH after attempting to liquidate a KFH-held account in Turkey.  The matter was supposedly resolved through KCAC proceedings with the resulting award endorsed by the Commercial Court of Appeal in Kuwait.

Another witness statement cited by the solicitor explained that it is extremely difficult to enforce against sovereign wealth funds, owned businesses or investments in the Middle East, and that attempts to enforce the award had been unsuccessful.

There was also a witness statement by a Filippo Fantechi, identified as the Managing Director of Contax, which confirmed the factual outline in Contax’s solictor’s statement in support of the application for enforcement.  Exhibited to Mr Fantechi’s purported witness statement were a number of documents including what purported to be copies of the arbitration agreement, the award, the Kuwaiti Commercial Court of Appeal’s decision (the “Kuwaiti Decision”), identification documents for Mr Fantechi, and Contax's BVI registration certificate.

The judge noted he had scrutinised the application with some care as he had found it difficult to understand.  However, when making the initial enforcement order he never suspected the documents to be fabrications.  The Court had accordingly granted Contax leave to enforce the award in August last year and their London solicitors purportedly served the order on a London-based company within the KFH group.  Contax also applied for third party debt orders (“TPDOs”) amounting to more than £70 million.

KFH claimed that the order was not validly served and that they only became aware of the proceedings when its bank accounts were frozen as a result of the TPDOs. KFH contended that “there was never an arbitration at all” and that the award was “an out-and-out fabrication”.

Application to set aside

KFH sought to set aside the judge’s enforcement order, presenting evidence in support of the application. This included statements provided by:

  1. Jones Day, acting for KFH, stating that the arbitration proceedings were a fabrication and demonstrating that large parts of the text of the award had been lifted from another judgment in the case of Manoukian v Société Générale de Banque au Liban SAL (“Manoukian”). This statement also exhibited a letter from the Secretariat General of the KCAC confirming that no cases had been brought in that forum against KFH, a letter from the Kuwaiti Court of First Instance confirming that there was no record of any proceedings between the parties between 2000 and November 2023, and a letter from the State of Kuwait Ministry of Justice stating that Contax has no legal disputes against KFH.

  2. Two witnesses named in the award as having given evidence and having been cross-examined who confirmed that they had no knowledge of the arbitration and had not participated in any such proceedings.

  3. Mr Fantechi who confirmed that he had no knowledge of the proceedings and denied any association with Contax’s solicitors.

  4. Charles Russell Speechlys, also acting for KFH, providing that they had contacted an individual named as counsel for KFH in the award and the Kuwaiti Decision and a man named as an expert witness for Contax in the award, neither of whom were aware of nor had participated in any proceedings involving KFH.

KFH sought to set aside the enforcement order on two main grounds: that the arbitration had been commenced without Mr Fantechi’s authority; and that the supposed arbitration agreement and award did not exist.

The Court found the issues on the first ground to be unclear and stated that, if this was the sole ground for the request to set aside the enforcement order, it would have been deemed a matter fit for trial with oral evidence.

As to the second ground, the Court noted that no authority had been found dealing with a case in which the alleged award was a fabrication.  However, since the jurisdiction to enforce the order relied entirely on the existence of an arbitration agreement and an authentic award, the fabrication of these documents invalidated any attempt to enter a judgment based on them.  The Court therefore adopted an approach similar to that of a summary judgment application, where it would proceed to assess whether the award should be set aside based on the presence or absence of triable issues.


The Court concluded that the available evidence indicated that the alleged arbitration agreement was highly unlikely to be genuine.  No original document had been presented and there was a lack of documentary evidence supporting the existence of the arbitration agreement prior to June 2023.  Further, the Court considered that there were compelling reasons to believe that the award was also a fabrication, namely:

  1. The language of the award. Large parts of the text of the award had clearly been lifted from the judgment in Manoukian.

  2. Evidence of Kuwaiti laws. The purported award failed to comply with basic requirements of Kuwaiti law, including that it was not in Arabic, did not contain a summary of the arbitration agreement and was not signed by all arbitrators.

  3. The Kuwaiti Decision. This should have been in Arabic and in the usual format of a Kuwaiti judgment.

  4. Positive evidence that the award was a fabrication, including that individuals named in the award as having been involved in the proceedings had not, in fact, been involved.

  5. Negative evidence that the award was fictitious, which was that both the award and Kuwaiti Decision referred to a number of documents which had not been produced.

For these reasons, the judge set aside the order on the basis that there was no arbitration agreement or arbitration, and that the award and the Kuwaiti decision were fabrications.


The role of corruption in arbitration has gained increasing attention recently, particularly following the landmark ruling in Nigeria v Process and Industrial Developments Ltd last year where the English High Court found that an $11 billion award against Nigeria had been obtained through fraudulent means.  In that case, Mr Justice Knowles stated: “I hope the facts and circumstances of this case may provoke debate and reflection among the arbitration community…”.  See our previous Perspective here for more information on this case.

Although this most recent case is a rather different, and indeed rare, scenario, it does highlight the importance of the existing safeguards in place within the Arbitration Act, which ultimately prevented the fraudulent award being enforced.  More widely, the case serves as a further reminder to the arbitration community to be vigilant in respect of the possibility of fraudulent activity.