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  • "A Day in Riyadh": An Exhibition of History, Culture, Modernization & Reformation

    During the last week of September, immediately following the opening of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, a series of seminars, workshops and interactive displays collectively coined "A Day in Riyadh" was showcased at the UN.  This week-long "Riyadh Day" was sponsored by the High Commission for the Development of Arriyadh (Riyadh), and particularly featured the ongoing work of the Arriyadh (Riyadh) Development Authority (ADA).  As a Representative (Observer) for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to the UN, and an attorney with an office in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Huf, Principal of JHI, was pleased and excited to attend.

    Riyadh (Saudi) Exhibition at the United Nations
    Focused on the capital city of Saudi Arabia (KSA, or the Kingdom) and the governate (province) of Riyadh, the series of presentations covered subjects relevant to the economy, culture, commerce and development of the entire Kingdom, and the Arab and Islamic worlds more generally.

    Of particular interest to those who follow this space will be the planned reformation of Riyadh's transportation system which, if fully executed, may be the single-largest public works project on earth during the period of construction. However, we will list all of the subjects covered by the panel presentations at the UN between September 27 - 30, to provide a broad look at the planned continued development of Riyadh (one of the chief purposes of the conference) which, in turn, may give us a better view of the Kingdom-wide social and economic reforms known as Saudi Arabia's "Vision 2030".

    Eng Khalid Al Hogail, CEO Saudi Public Transport Company  Saudi Nuclear Program  Arriyadh Development Authority

    9/27 "Riyadh:  Planning for People" - the overall City Plan (by 2030) moving forward, including details on Riyadh's new "Smart City" initiative.

    9/28 "Riyadh:  A Sustainable & People-Friendly City" - details concerning the Sustainable Development of Riyadh.

    9/29 "Riyadh:  On the Move" -  The King Abdulaziz Project for Riyadh Public Transport.

    9/30 "Riyadh:  Development of Civilization and Social Partnership" - Plans for the continued social, economic and intellectual development of the city's population in line with Islamic principles and the traditions of Arabia, particularly youth and especially young women, empowering them to take a more active role in the growth of the city and the future of the Kingdom as a whole.

    Dr. Sana H Alorf and Jason Huf
    (Jason Huf and Dr. Sana Alorf.  Dr. Sana is extraordinary, but not unique. She is a medical doctor working in Riyadh who also participates in many charitable and civic endeavors.  She volunteered, along with many other young Saudis, to travel to New York and talk about their culture, heritage and way of life in side bars at the exhibition.  Many ladies are taking up professions [including and increasingly fields such as law, medicine and science], starting businesses and participating in life outside their homes in the Kingdom.  Dr. Sana has a wealth of information that dispells many of the illusions concerning Saudi society and highlights the progress Saudi women have made - and continue to make.)

    The public transortation project, scheduled for completion in 2018, is a massive affair that could revolutionize life in Riyadh.  In addition to a new bus service, the project includes the construction of a commuter railway (Riyadh Metro) with six lines, dozens of stations, a main terminal for each line, and services areas at each stop, including large-scale shopping complexes at each of the main terminals.  Anticipating use by roughly 3.6 million residents daily, over 3,000 transport stands will be constructed to accomodate waiting commuters.

    With billions of Saudi Riyals being invested into the project, and given the rather brief time frame, this will generate a labor boom in the capital for qualified Saudis and expatriates.  Mr. Huf asked Eng. Hassan Al Musa, Deputy Director of the Transport Planning Department of the High Commission for the Development of Riyadh, if resources had been allocated to process what should be a substantial spike in Visa applications.  Potential contractors and subcontractors will be interested to know that the Deputy Director responded that his office is in touch with the Ministry of Labor on a regular basis as they set up for this contingency.  So long as employers comply with their filing requirements, he said, there should be no delays in the project caused by a labor shortage brought about by paperwork backlogs.

    Eng Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf
    (Eng. Hassan Al Musa and Jason Huf.  Mr. Huf found him to be capable, earnest and modest.  Although entrusted with day-to-day management of a massive public works project, with a tight schedule, he always gives credit to others, refering to his "Army" of dedicated public servants.  "That makes you a General", responded Mr. Huf, who later added, "Eng. Hassan is a nice guy".)

    In addition to the lifestyle transformation and relief of traffic congestion that will take place once this project is complete, young Saudis who are lacking in resources such as cars of their own will be able to much more easily venture beyond the confines of their own neighborhoods to look for satisfying work and important educational opportunities.  And, everyone who lives in Riyadh should enjoy the benefit of cleaner air arising from fewer cars on the highways.

    The entire program provided a window through which one could sample Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, the rapid modernization and other wide-ranging reforms ordered by King Salman and spearheaded by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with the aim of guiding a modern but authentically Islamic Saudi Arabia that remains true to its people's history and traditions into a future "Post-Oil" economy.

    These reforms include the KSA's Sustainable Development program, which closely follows the UN's Sustainable Development Goals while keeping in conformity with Kingdom's Islamic principles; increased opportunities for youth & women; and, Saudi Arabia's nuclear power program.

    At JHI, we have offered our own modest suggestions for the shaping of such sweeping reforms, with an emphasis on attracting increased Foreign Direct Investment in the Saudi market.

    With an incoming US Administration that seems keen on utilizing America's energy resources; and, (if feasible) working with Russia to defeat ISIS (which, in addition to commiting henious atrocities, has been fighting forces led directly or indirectly by the Iranians), some may see such investment from the West as slow in coming, and the KSA's reception of it to be less-than-enthusiastic.

    Seen by some as signalling potential push-back against the further development of US energy resources and other recent or possible future policy changes, Prince Alaweed bin Talal of Kingdom Holding Company (Saudi Arabia's soverign investment apparatus) suggested selling holdings previously classified "not sellable" (such as shares in Citi Group and US Treasury bonds), which would be a divorce from Saudi Arabia's long-standing policy of having "buy-ins" in important American economic institutions and, thus, the American economy - effectively giving the US a stake in the KSA's existence and continued success.

    Noises concerning such potential push-back seem unlikely to stem the increased exploitation of US energy resources (another dip in the price of oil, for example, would seem more likely to give pause to an increase in US production).  And, the US-Saudi alliance of over seven decades, while fraying a bit over the last several years, should remain rather tightly tethered:  after ISIS is destroyed, a check on Iranian ambition will have been eliminated, and the US and the KSA will more clearly and simply share strong interests in containing Iran and managing increasingly complicated relationships with Russia.

    In fact, the strong relationships the KSA enjoys with the West, the interest Western countries have in seeing the continued modernization of Arab states, and Western companies' keen eye to continue - and, possibly increase - their investments in the Gulf region were reinforced recently by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in her mid-December visit to the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Bahrain.

    Overview City Plan Riyadh 2030
    Pending changes to the Kingdom's commercial and corporate laws, which continue to be rolled out, and given at least one or two geopolitical uncertainties, JHI presently and on the whole views it likely that the environment for Foreign Investors will become even more attractive as the Vision 2030 reforms are implemented in the KSA.  As to the Great Social & Economic Reformation of the Kingdom known as "Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030", Mr. Huf doesn't think its on par with the Maji Restoration (the radical transformation experienced in Japan during the late 19th century), but he does see it as the most significant series of reforms in the history of the KSA since the reign of King Faisal (perhaps in the Kingdom's entire history - we'll see) and the most positive collection of developments to take place in the Arab world thus far in this new, turbulent 21st century - and, he certainly viewed the exhibition at the UN positively.

  • Huf Witnesses Major Changes at the UN

    During 2016, Mr. Huf had the opportunity to meet with both the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) and the President of the UN General Assembly for the 2015-16 term.  As a Representative (Observer) to the UN on behalf of the New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA), a recognized Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Mr. Huf took a keen interest in what they had to say.

    HE Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General; and Jason Huf (JHI)
    (Left to Right: H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and, Jason Huf)

    Nearing the end of his second term, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been very earnest in showcasing and attempting to make effective his crowning accomplishment: the UN Sustainable Development Treaty (the Treaty), which garnered a record number of member states joining as signatories.

    In April, the Secretary-General reached out to the private sector, in particular the US Legal Community in New York City, to see what they could do to help promote and ensure the success of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are embodied in the Treaty (for more on the SDGs specifically, we invite you to peruse www.un.org).

    While the underlying purpose of the SDGs is noble (after all, who doesn't like clean air & water, equal rights, rule of law and the like), as lawyers we are limited to providing our corporate clients with legal advice, not business or public relations advice.  We can only advise our clients on how to be compliant with the laws and regulations of the relevant jurisdiction(s).  If a client were to invest in, say, Saudi Arabia (KSA) in such a manner that it promotes gender equality in that market, it may be a terrific selling point - but, that's a PR decision, not a legal requirement.

    We will discuss gender equality and other relevant issues in the KSA when providing JHI's write-up on Mr. Huf's attendance at and observations of the week-long "Riyadh Day" presentations at the UN.  As to the promotion and enforcement of the SDG's, it really is up to the signatories to pass executing legislation before attorneys can advise on how to comply with such provisions.   And let's face it, only government can concentrate the resources and power necessary to execute such sweeping and extensive changes.

    The odds of that happening really have to be measured on a state-by-state basis.  As to the Western states, Mr. Huf points out that in politics there is an ebb and flow, with a pendulum that swings right and left, and the present trend appears to be one wherein Western countries are electing more conservative, business-friendly governments.  If Mr. Huf is correct, then issues such as combating "climate change", for example, will (for the time being at least) take a back seat to pro-energy policies that are likely to be adopted by such governments.

    Irrespective of what one thinks of the feasibility of accomplishing the SDGs by the target date of 2030, no one should doubt the Secretary-General's sincerity in wanting these goals to be accomplished, or what he views as the UN's power to shepherd such change.  Mr. Huf found His Excellency's sincerity, passion and enthusiasm to be obvious in that he wears it on his sleeve.  He also thinks it obvious that the Secretary-General is highly intelligent, exceedingly accomplished, and a very nice man.

    Its a remarkable life story, really. From UN Refugee to UN Secretary-General:  finding himself to be a UN refugee at age 6 with the outbreak of the Korean War, to becoming an advocate for lasting peace as the Republic of Korea's (South Korea's) Foreign Minister, to being Secretary-General of the international body that once shielded him and his family as young refugee, he proudly says "I am a UN Boy".

    Mogens Lykketoft (Denmark) & Jason Huf (JHI)
    (Left to Right: Morgens Lykketoft (Denmark), then-President of the United Nations General Assembly; and, Jason Huf)

    On the subject of choosing his successor as Secretary-General, Mr. Huf had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Morgens Lykketoft, formerly the Finance Minister of Denmark who, until this September, served as President of the UN General Assembly.

    Mr. Lykketoft provided an overview of changes to the selection process.  Perhaps the most fundamental innovation is the vetting of candidates by member states that occurs prior to the vote taken by the Security Council members.

    Whereas in past years the entire process of selecting a Secretary-General was dominated by the "Big Five" (the permanent Security Council members: the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom & France), candidates for their consideration are now first reviewed, narrowed down and subsequently voted upon by the General Assembly. 

    The Security Council is not bound by any recommendation made or preference expressed by the General Assembly; however, to elect a candidate that was not considered favorably by the General Assembly would be to risk a divide between the Secretariat (the executive wing and permanent bureaucracy of the UN, which the Secretary-General heads) and the member states themselves (upon which the very legitimacy of the UN relies).

    On the other hand, this increased, more hands-on role by the member states and the General Assembly as a whole could provide for greater transparency in the selection process and, when heeded by the Security Council, may lead to greater consensus between the General Assemby and Secretariat.

    This year, the revised process produced the election of Antonio Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal who once served as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  He will take over the office of Secretary-General in January of 2017.

    In addition to achieving the SDG's, Mr. Guterres's efforts are promised to be focused on continued reform of the UN bureaucracy; continued streamlining, expansion and enhancement of refugee assistance; and, very prominently, an aggressive new "surge" in diplomacy for peace - an intensification in seeking resolution to the wide proliferation of conflicts around the world, especially those conflicts that have led to several severe refugee crises currently plaguing humankind globally.

    JHI congratulates Mr. Guterres on his election after a months-long campaign that included a rigorous review process resulting in consensus in both the General Assembly and (somewhat remarkably) the Security Council as well; and, cautions: careful what you wish for, sir - because now you've got it.

    The retiring Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, even after all of his success in his position at an institution he has loved and revered since childhood, nonetheless seems very happy to return home to Seoul after 10 rewarding - but long - years.  JHI congratulates him as well, and thanks him for his service.  We hope His Excellency enjoys a well-earned retirement after a long, but safe, journey home. 
  • What the Frack, Dude?

    Unless you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica, the word “Fracking” tends to have negative connotations.  People don’t necessarily like it, even without quite knowing that to which the word refers. 

    Fracking is the colloquial term for Hydraulic Fracturing (which may sound ever scarier), a mining process by which a fluid solution is applied at high pressure against fissures in subterranean rock formations to facilitate the yield of valuable materials (usually oil, gas or coal steam) that would ordinarily be uneconomical, or otherwise impracticable, to extract.  This process has been in use for over sixty-five years, and over 1 million wells employing such a system have operated in the continental United States alone during that period.

    While Fracking is not new, the technologies involved in both the Fracking process and in oil and gas exploration have improved to the extent wherein there are new uses that generate higher yields.  Perhaps the most discussed new developments as of late concern the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits.

    Focusing specifically on Fracking as it applies to the Marcellus Shale, in very basic terms: a well is drilled into an extraction site, and the hydraulic fluid is applied at great pressure against cracks in subterranean sandstone formations, allowing for the injection of a proppant that facilitates the release of natural gas particles (mostly methane), which then fill the well thereby making such gas available for extraction.  The fluid solution employed in the Hydraulic Fracturing process generally consists of water (90%), sands (9.5%) and certain chemicals (0.5%).

    The chemicals conventionally used in such a solution tend to include methanol, hydrochloric or acetic acid (to clean the initial fissure), citric acid (to prevent corrosion), salts, glutaraldehyde (a disinfectant against bacteria), water-soluble guar gum and other viscosity control agents, ethylene glycol (to prevent the occurrence of scaling inside the pipes) and friction reducers.  These chemicals sometimes vary and are employed to prevent bacterial growth in the water within a wellbore, facilitate and maintain operation of the well, and to prevent or otherwise mitigate the corrosion of the well casing (such well casings typically consisting of a polymer gel or foam).

    Recycled “flowback” water, liquid propane, carbon dioxide and other gases may be used to reduce reliance on water for this process, as the technology continues to change.

    Most of the discussion about the recent proliferation of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region revolves around the potential environmental impact.  In addition to voicing worries over the possibility of increased seismic activity (earthquakes), many are concerned with the potential for pollution:  the use of certain known carcinogens in the Hydraulic Fracturing process and, particularly, contamination of groundwater by methane gas via leaks in the wells after such wells are in operation.

    There is some scientific debate still ongoing as to which is more susceptible to leakage:  Fracked wells or conventional natural gas wells.  Currently, radioactive tracers and, increasingly, geophones are used to monitor Hydraulically Fractured natural gas wells once established.  Unfortunately, much of the research and discussion on issues involving Hydraulic Fracturing and the potential consequences to the environment and our health has been ideologically motivated and politically charged.  Thus, when seeking accurate information to become better educated about these legitimate concerns, well, the waters are somewhat muddied.

    That’s disappointing, but should not discourage one from seeking more information (especially if you live in an area where Fracking is employed, or scheduled to be employed).

    The intention here is not to craft a scientific treatise or to present an academic paper.  This little blog posting is not all-inclusive, but is merely intended to provide some basic facts on an often-mentioned, but little understood, word that has made its way into our vocabulary.  JHI hopes it may well be a springboard for conducting your own research on the subject.

    Finally, this article certainly does not take any political opinion on the subject of Fracking – that can continue to be the domain of those who engage in politics for a living.
  • Marcellus Shale - Be Your Own Regulator

    As energy production on federally-owned land has been slowed to a trickle through government action (and, sometimes, inaction), the production of oil and gas on privately-owned land has increased exponentially.  This development has not only provided the first real hope of a sustainable economic boom the United States has seen in years, it also has the country on pace to be energy-independent in just five years.  An America that exports energy isn’t a “game changer”, it’s a world changer.

    Those who live above, and own the rights to, Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits should be aware that the advances in technology that make Marcellus Shale natural gas exploitable also make such exploitation safe from an environmental standpoint.  Everyone likes clean water, and no one wants their use and enjoyment of clean water to be disturbed.  Almost as undesirable, however, might be the disturbance of natural gas production by bureaucrats (or, perhaps in some rare instances, ideologues acting in the guise of bureaucrats) tasked with ensuring water safety.  Also of concern may be third-party litigants seeking to maintain the artificial scarcity of our energy supply under the banner of “environmental protection”.

    How do you maintain peace of mind that your water will remain clean while preventing governmental and other third-party interference that could hamper the value of your natural resource?  Through contract.  Again, we’re talking about privately-owned land and mineral rights, so federal regulations are not the most pressing concern.  As to state regulations, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has thus far proved itself to be one of the most energy-friendly states in the country, where the emphasis on new law has largely been on securing economic growth.  But, no government lasts forever – governors have term limits, and seats in the legislature do, occasionally, turn over.

    Protect yourself by preempting the rationale for governmental and other third-party action:  when you agree to lease the rights to your gas to a gas producer, make sure the contract includes health, safety and environmental standards that are an enforceable part of your agreement.  If you own rights to Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, negotiating for such self-regulation is perfectly reasonable and in your best interests.  Reputable gas producers will not fight you on this, and the best of them will actually help you with understanding how the technology works and how to establish enforcement mechanisms that guarantee the quality of their work on your land.

    The first step is getting together with your friends, neighbors and others who share your interests and discussing the importance of using your power as citizens and concerned property owners.  Being on the same page is fundamentally vital to keeping your environment clean without the assistance of government regulations and regulators.  The next step is contacting qualified, experienced legal counsel with the knowledge, expertise and commitment to help your community to help itself.