66-67 Newman Street, 2nd and 3rd Floors, Suites 203, 204 & 303
W1T 3EQ, London, England
Ashley Messick advises on numerous high-profile and complex international asset tracing cases, and is commended for her "ability to meet problems with creative solutions".
Ashley is an acknowledged expert in the asset recovery field, with a particular focus on investor-state disputes and sovereign recovery. Ashley is regularly engaged to provide evidence in support of enforcement measures as well as critical intelligence to assist their timely application. Her work has been instrumental in successfully arguing alter ego and overcoming sovereign immunity hurdles, evidencing ownership and control of various assets, and developing both lobbying and communications strategies to amplify enforcement measures.
What attracted you to a career in asset recovery?
I became involved in asset recovery by accident. I knew nothing about asset tracing or private investigators until contacted by a headhunter. Looking back, I cannot imagine having a different career. Those who know me will attest that I love my job because successful asset recovery is highly strategic. It requires creativity, attention to detail, an understanding of what makes the other side tick, and how to use a variety of tools to bring the other side to the negotiating table. It is like a real-life game of chess that constantly challenges me.
What do clients look for in an effective asset recovery expert?
With so much at stake, clients come to me because they need a trusted advisor who can develop a comprehensive recovery strategy and run the process from beginning to end to deliver results. This process involves multiple skills, including identifying a debtor’s global asset position and points of leverage, understanding the legal hurdles and benefits each jurisdiction offers, knowing the best counsel for recovery in each jurisdiction, and deploying other tools like communications and lobbying. All of this must be underpinned by the ability to execute each strategic play in a coordinated fashion. This is a rare combination of skills but what is needed to ensure clients have the best chance for recovery.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case you have been a part of?
A case I can talk openly about is Perenco v Ecuador. I was engaged to develop the recovery strategy, which included a mixed use of enforcement tactics and strategic communication ploys. We engaged local counsel to gear up for enforcement measures in a few jurisdictions from Central America to Southeast Asia. While starting recognition proceedings, we made a tactical move in Luxembourg by going after Ecuador’s coupon payments to bondholders, knowing the favourable nature of Luxembourg’s legal landscape for what we wanted to do. That pressure tactic was executed at the right moment, against the right political landscape. Within eight months from engagement, the Ecuadorian government had entered settlement talks leading to our client’s circa USD 365 million award being paid.
What are the biggest challenges for asset recovery practitioners in light of the increasing range and use of digital assets? How do you navigate these challenges?
Like other asset classes, digital assets present challenges relating to how and where they are held. Our cryptocurrency experts can trace digital assets. If you can trace digital assets to a centralised platform, such as a cryptocurrency exchange, the jurisdiction and presiding law for the platform is extremely important. If you are within a country that enforces legal cooperation, you will have a higher probability of recovering these assets. As with any asset tracing investigation, we must navigate the various legal regimes by staying updated on available legal tools and creatively tackling digital assets and the structures through which they are held and moved.
With the rapid advancement of AI capabilities, how do you believe lawyers and experts can best leverage this new technology to enhance their work on investigations and asset recovery efforts?
Our cyber and forensics experts manage a combination of eDiscovery platforms that utilise elements of AI, including technology assisted review approaches, which allow us to efficiently identify necessary information within large document sets. Using these tools as a first pass to extract key information has been immensely helpful. While we have a significant range of language capabilities in-house, multilingual review tools significantly enhance our pace of work.
What excites you the most about the future of asset recovery and investigations practice?
With the onset of funding in the recovery space, award or judgement holders now have larger budgets to chase assets and recover monies owed. Being well-funded allows you to take risks. Every successful risk comes with a new avenue for future recovery, be it a new jurisdiction with positive precedent or new legal tactics that others can piggyback on. With the space becoming better funded, we can push boundaries and become more creative in our approach.
How does J.S. Held stand apart from its competitors in the market?
We conduct investigations through a legal lens and deploy various tactics to achieve an advantageous settlement. For recovery against sovereigns, no other firm has the amount of practical in-house experience of successfully running these enforcement campaigns end-to-end.
We also have experts globally with cross-sector experience whose knowledge has been instrumental in successful enforcement measures. Recently, we were looking to seize a satellite before it launched. I turned to my colleague for insight into the contractual terms of satellites and the regulations around their transport and launch. Similarly, when looking at trademarks and patents as enforceable assets, our intellectual property practice helps value these assets and unravel the mechanics of ownership.
Looking back over your career, what has been your proudest achievement?
I was formerly a partner at GPW before J.S. Held acquired us. I built GPW’s dispute consulting team and sovereign debt advisors practice, eventually bringing my company to sale. It was a real testament to what I and my former partners built when J.S. Held approached us for acquisition. The acquisition showed me that in addition to being a practitioner, I am an entrepreneur.