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Danone says Wahaha's US law firm in suit withdraws
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The legal counsel hired by China's biggest beverage maker to fight a lawsuit filed by Groupe Danone in Los Angeles has quit, lawyers of the French yogurt maker said yesterday.


Latham Watkins, one of the biggest law firms in the United States, officially filed a paper to a Los Angels court last Friday, saying that the firm will no longer represent the case for Wahaha, Chen Dong, a Chinese lawyer of Bingham McCutchen, the US legal counsel of Danone, told Shanghai Daily yesterday.


The feud between Wahaha and the world's largest yogurt maker has been running for almost five months after Danone filed a lawsuit to sue Hangzhou-based Wahaha as well as its British Virgin Island-registered parent company in Los Angels on June 4.


The withdrawal came two weeks after Latham Watkins hinted in court on October 25 that it was unsure whether it can continue to offer legal services for Wahaha as the case may "compromise the firm's professional obligations," Chen recalled.


But so far the firm hasn't explained its unexpected resignation due to a confidential bond between the company and its clients.


A spokesman of Wahaha declined to confirm the news.


Quinn Emanuel, another US-based law firm, will take the case for Wahaha, according to Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald. Quinn Emanuel is a firm which has tried over 1,175 cases and won 1,078, or 92 percent, the company said on its Website.


The departure of Latham Watkins will have little effect on the ongoing suit but may cause the case to last longer as the new attorneys will request the court for more time for them to be familiar with the case, Chen said.


Danone, which set up a joint venture with Wahaha Group in 1996, alleged in the suit that Hangzhou-based Hongsheng Beverage is selling Wahaha-branded beverages without license, and that the drinks are the same as the product made by its joint venture with Wahaha Group. Hongsheng is a subsidiary of Wahaha Group.


Danone sought more than US$100 million for the alleged illegal sales.


Danone also alleged the beverages were sold through the same vendors and suppliers as Danone's joint ventures without permission.


In the lawsuit, the French firm also sued Ever Maple Trading Ltd, a Virgin Island company, as it is the major shareholder and controller of Hongsheng.


Besides, Kelly Fuli Zong, the daughter of Wahaha's chairman Zong Qinghou and Shi Youzhen, Zong's wife also became defendants in the case as Danone claimed that the two have close links to Hongsheng and Ever Maple.


(Shanghai Daily November 14, 2007)

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