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“A lot of investments in oil and gas, in Africa, are structured in Mauritius”

  • 40 billion USD worth of investment into Africa are structured through Mauritius

No other International Financial Centre of the region can compete with us, not even Rwanda. Mauritius is the reference today,” the managing partner of Juridis, Nilen Vencadasmy, states.  The Mauritius-headquartered law firm is now a member of Interlaw, which is considered a top-tier global network of independent legal firms. In an interview with BIZweek, Nilen Vencadasmy speaks of the growing interest of foreign investors in Mauritius, as both an investment destination and the preferred route into Africa.

Nilen Vencadasmy, Managing Partner, Juridis

Can you tell us more about your legal career path, Juridis and the association with Interlaw?  

I was previously with a global law firm, Dentons, and two years ago, I decided that it was time to stand up on my own after 16 years in the legal profession. I discussed with Johanna Murugan, who is today my partner, and she was in the same frame of mind at the time. We decided to roll out in this new adventure, and here we are.


Juridis has been set up two years ago and we are a specialized corporate law firm. Johanna, from her experience in France, is a real estate specialized lawyer, but she also does transactional work. I am mostly in mergers & acquisition, and structuring. Let’s say we are a full service firm and we are on the market as a one-stop shop for investors, so either investors who are investing in Mauritius or those who are using Mauritius as an investment platform to invest elsewhere, and especially in Africa.


We have also set up a management company, following a license from the FSC. It is situated in the north, and of course, it operates independently. The management company is called Juridis Management Services Limited and is, we can say, a sister company which operates independently. I’m a non-executive director on the board, but we work together. So it really enables us, now, to be full service, from giving legal advice to making things happen for the clients, like  incorporating, applying for licenses and things like that.


Since the competition seems to be quite tough lately in this sector, are you referring to local clients, or regional and international ones? 

Competition has always been tough in the legal profession. I’ve been a lawyer, in the traditional sense, for the first couple of years of my legal career, but I developed an early interest for the corporate side, from my pupillage days with Mrs Urmilla Boolell. It was a clear indication that I’d focus on the corporate aspect at one point in my career. I did so 10 years ago and moved away from the traditional local lawyer’s career path.


I also had a brief spell as an in-house lawyer and then came back to the profession as a corporate one.

Yes, it’s a competitive environment because we’re still young, despite my 18 years of experience. We need to be competitive. I think that we have achieved our goal of being seen by our clients as a boutique, where over and above providing legal advice, our clients feel like we are part of the family. We have local clients in the different fields of the economic life in Mauritius and we also represent a couple of conglomerates.


I would say that 50 % of our portfolio consists of Mauritians, but we also have a very important share of international clients, who are from France, the Middle East, the UK or Africa. They are either investing here, interested in business acquisitions or setting up their own investments in Mauritius.


A lot of our foreign clients are in real estate investment, obviously, since my partner is in that field, but in respect of the management company activities, we have noted more and more international investors who are using Mauritius from the  international financial services perspective. Our services are retained to structure their business, which then allows them to invest in Africa.


In which sector are foreigners more likely to invest in Mauritius? 

It’s mainly real estate, hospitality real estate, but we also have clients who have acquired businesses in ICT as of late, and more and more of them are in the new technologies, Fintech space… This sector is attracting a lot of interest from international investors, with the new local regulatory framework for virtual assets – that is the VAITOS –  which has been enacted in 2021 in Mauritius.


We have noted that the Fintech sector gathers a small community, where you probably meet a couple of the same people in international conferences. So Mauritius is known as a jurisdiction of reference due to its model regulatory framework in relation to virtual assets and Fintech. This is also an area which is attracting a lot of attention.


Coming back to Juridis and Interlaw, why is there a need for Mauritian firms to be affiliated with global ones? 

There are not many global networks of a certain reputation and Interlaw is one of them, being in the top-tier, as ranked by Chambers and Partners. There may indeed be less of a need to be part of a global network of law firms when limiting one’s legal activities to the domestic market, but we have made a shift to the global playground and we are increasingly moving towards servicing international investors and international clients. We are, as a result of this, engaged in deals and transactions involving different jurisdictions, with different legal systems. There is a need for us, at times, to hire lawyers from another jurisdiction, in respect of the needs of a given client. It makes sense for a law firm engaged in multi-jurisdictional deals to be part of the legal global network, as it provides instant access to expertise from qualified lawyers in those jurisdictions. We are involved in a lot of deals where we have to collaborate with lawyers from foreign jurisdictions. It provides clients access to expertise on a global scale. The partnership with a global law firm is hence essential.


And what makes it interesting for a global law firm to partner one from Mauritius? 

Well, Mauritius is a reference in the global business sector. I was quite surprised when we were in Vienna recently, participating in our first regional meeting; the Europe, Middle East and Africa meeting, with Interlaw. There were also more than 100 lawyers present from these jurisdictions, and they all knew about Mauritius and all of them inquired about how they could reach out to us because some of them already had clients interested in our jurisdiction.


Mauritius is known to be a global financial services jurisdiction of international reputation. A lot of those investors will structure their investments through Mauritius, even though we might have lost some competitive advantages due to the amendments we had with the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement with India.


Mauritius, as a global business jurisdiction, is today very relevant with regards to structuring investments in Africa, and this is why we have interest from big global law firms or networks like Interlaw. They all have eyes on Mauritius, since it gives them that competitive advantage.


It may be interesting, here, for you to elaborate. Where do we bring them?

There is a focus on Africa, not only from Interlaw, but from all global law firms and from all networks of independent law firms. Interlaw is also looking at expanding its footprint in Africa, and Mauritius is, from an investment perspective, the reference of the African continent.


Africa has, for the past decade or so, been the promised land. Why the growing interest and the rush for the African market now? 

It’s a huge market for businesses. This is the first reason why Africa is becoming more and more relevant. The demand is exploding on the continent. It has been the target of a lot of investment, especially in oil and gas. A lot of investments in oil and gas in Africa are structured in Mauritius.


Is the demand from the African market the most interesting one at the moment?

Well, it’s booming, that is for sure. Interestingly, this is also the case with regards to new technologies. Nigeria, for example, is becoming a reference in terms of Fintech, new technologies and cryptos. Africa is where everything seems to be happening, from a business perspective, and it’s attracting interest from investors.


How do we tap into this market?

Many business structures in Africa are done through Mauritius. I’ll give you a couple of figures just to tell you how relevant Mauritius is. There are more than 450 private equity funds investing in Africa which are structured in Mauritius. As of June 2021, nearly 40 billion USD worth of investment into Africa were actually structured through Mauritius. This clearly shows how relevant Mauritius is, in terms of investment, compared to other IFCs. No other IFC can compete with us, not even Rwanda. Mauritius is the reference today.


Are we going to keep this advantage? 

There’s no reason why we won’t. Frankly speaking, I don’t see us, at least in this part of the world, losing a competitive advantage as it will take years for those who are growing to settle. Let us look at Rwanda. We do need to take them seriously as a competitor, but I think Mauritius definitely has the advantage of its history.


Mauritius has the reputation of being a strong democracy, with an independent judiciary. We at times tend to forget it, but this is very important for investors who are actually going to put their money in a jurisdiction that they do not know. The first thing that they’re going to look at is the political stability. Secondly, it is the level of competence and independence in the judiciary. Luckily for us, in this region of the world, Mauritius is still a reference in both.


Our objective, now, must be to attract investments from other regions of the world. I’m mainly referring to Asia, India and Southeast Asia, where we have lost a bit of our edge. There’s a lot of potential that we can grab from there, but this is a work in progress and we need to sit down as an industry and see how we can progress. We will have to rival countries like Singapore and Hong Kong, which is quite tough.


What are now your challenges? Your next steps? 

Being part of a prestigious network is good, but it comes with added responsibility. There is a need to keep a certain level of service. We have only been around for two years and we have tried to build a very strong base, and I think that we have been successful. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been admitted to Interlaw. The challenge is to maintain the level of service. We will also obviously help the network expand in Africa, in identifying partners in in the sub-Saharan African region. The question of due diligence is very important to Interlaw. So, we need to find the right people, with the right profiles, the right business and the right fit.

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