GARNERING THE LONG GAME

Lebanon 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Aziz Torbey, Founder of Eptalex, Aziz Torbey Law Firm, on the long-term structural advantages of working in Lebanon, important moves the state is taking to improve the regulatory framework, and how the merger with Eptalex has revitalized the firm's global operations.

Aziz Torbey
BIOGRAPHY
The Aziz Torbey Law Firm was founded in 1973. With extensive experience representing corporations and banks in a wide variety of commercial and financial matters, Aziz Torbey is also an expert in administrative proceedings and litigation involving all kinds of tax, real estate, and construction issues. He is also a tax consultant and legal advisor to a number of financial institutions, banks, insurance companies, real estate vehicles, and corporations. Furthermore, the firm has served as arbitrator in numerous high-profile local and international cases and efficiently represented creditors and debtors in bankruptcy proceedings in Lebanon. His background in journalism, teaching, political activism, and business have contributed tremendously to his career as a leading legal professional.

How is your plan to expand to South Africa progressing?

Having for several years seen businesses opening up on the continent, we have built a strong partnership with a local boutique law firm that has offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town and has now merged with Eptalex. It has been a strategic expansion, considering the excellent existing ties and relations between Lebanon and South Africa, the active Lebanese community there, and the level of education, facilities, and size of the economy. We provide a key presence in supporting businesspersons willing to seize opportunities there. In fact, South Africa has many attractive assets for investors; tourism, construction, mining, and financial services are currently the most appealing ones.

In which fields do you have a competitive advantage over other firms in Lebanon?

Before founding Eptalex in 2015 and expanding in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, we had been known for providing efficient and quality legal services to local and international businesses in Lebanon for over 40 years. Today, and as part of the global firm Eptalex, we are able to rely on more than 70 lawyers from different backgrounds and specialties to provide our clients with personalized and expert legal work with in-depth understanding of their businesses in Lebanon and abroad.

The Lebanese parliament recently issued a new flat tax on all Lebanese businesses. What other regulatory changes do you expect in the medium term?

Lebanon has been improving its regulatory framework to comply with international standards regarding financial transparency and the fight against illicit financial flows. On May 12, it signed the multilateral Convention on Mutual Assistance in Tax Matters, putting itself in a stronger position toward its international partners. Parliament is also working to fund public sector wage increases by raising new taxes, stamping duties on phone bills and judicial records, public notary fees, alcoholic beverages, income and revenues, and VAT. Furthermore, since the bid process for oil and gas exploration was resumed, parliament has been working on a new specific taxation law for petroleum activities.

What should foreign companies be aware of before entering Lebanon?

They should bear in mind that, first of all, Lebanon is a free market economy based on an unrestricted exchange of goods, services, and capital. Secondly, despite its relatively small internal market, it serves as a privileged platform for access to the markets of the Middle East and Gulf. Thirdly, the tax regulation is favorable for those who want to restructure their global businesses and take advantage of the Double Taxation Agreements our country has signed with 32 countries, including Italy, France, Malta, Cyprus, Egypt, and the UAE. Last but not least, the market offers a young, dynamic, polyglot, and well-educated population.

What is your outlook for the year ahead?

The year ahead presents great opportunities. The international market maintains an attentive and proactive approach toward more transparency and compliance. As a natural consequence of this process, companies and individuals with assets in different jurisdictions will consider business restructuring and advice to protect capital and comply with global and domestic regulations. The world is also facing interesting developments in the energy sector. Although the Paris agreement on climate change has been challenged by the biggest economic power, many states and private companies are willing to pursue the change and collaborate to increase cross-border cooperation and investments in the energy industry. As an international law firm, we continue to follow these developments and advise our clients on all related legal issues and opportunities. For the year ahead, Eptalex is also boosting its relationship with prominent and service-oriented law firms in attractive markets, thanks to our membership in international law firm networks like GBL Alliance. As such, we will be able to better serve our clients with expert and tailor-made solutions for their transactions worldwide.