In today’s global corporate world, many conglomerates have complex and layered shareholding structures with multiple entities in various jurisdictions. Each entity must function as part of a cohesive whole within the larger global group, but will still be governed by company laws or other laws of its respective local jurisdiction. In international M&A deals, parties sometimes approach the corporate governance of a foreign entity (and correspondingly, negotiations of shareholders agreements, joint venture agreements and other matters) by using principles and concepts that they are familiar with in their domestic jurisdiction.
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A Chinese company’s top executive is usually the company’s legal representative, and he or she is legally entrusted with the company seal, which is the company’s official symbol. The company seal provides the legal capacity to make and execute agreements, provide guarantees, transfer assets, and legally bind the company. When a legal representative is replaced, the displaced legal representative must return the company seal to the company so that the new legal representative can represent the company. However, if the displaced legal representative refuses to return the seal, the company could be liable for all the agreements that the former legal representative binds the company to. In other words, even if the articles of association can be used to remove an executive it does not necessarily mean that the foreign investors have been able to regain control of the company in practice. Therefore, retrieving the terminated legal representative’s unlawfully held company seal is an important step toward the foreign investors recapturing control of the company.

By Zhang Shouzhi, Xu Xiaodan and Li Xiang, King & Wood’s Cross-Border Dispute Resolution Practice, Beijing


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