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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Volterra Fietta

02 March 2017

Secured a win for Barbados in a dispute over wetlands

People in Who’s Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 21
Value of pending counsel work US$9.5 billion
Treaty cases 16
Current arbitrator appointments 8 (of which 0 is as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 1

Robert Volterra and Stephen Fietta left Latham & Watkins in 2011 to set up this London-based boutique dedicated to public international law and international arbitration. Though Fietta exited in 2015 to set up his own shop focused on the same area, Volterra Fietta continues to grow, now fielding five partners. 

Volterra, a Canadian who cut his teeth working with Jan Paulsson in Paris and then later at Herbert Smith, has counsel experience in a variety of PIL forums. He has acted for states including Bahrain, Barbados, Chile and Eritrea in territorial and maritime boundary disputes before the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The firm added to the partnership for the first time in 2013, recruiting Graham Coop, a former general counsel of the Energy Charter Secretariat. Another addition in 2015 was Christophe Bondy, a former senior counsel at Canada’s Trade Law Bureau who led his home government’s defence in a number of NAFTA claims.

A rising star within the practice is Giorgio Mandelli, who joined as counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in 2014 and was promoted to the partnership in the following year.

Who uses it?

The firm’s state clients include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Egypt has instructed it to defend an ICSID claim by Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera relating to the imprisonment of journalists. Barbados also used it in a treaty case brought by an eco-tourism investor (see ‘Recent events’).

India recently included Volterra Fietta on a shortlist of 12 firms in the running to advise the state on investment treaty matters.

On the investor side at ICSID, it’s represented the US’s Koch Industries and bottlemaker Owens-Illinois in claims against Venezuela; a Cypriot company linked to US businessman Ronald Lauder in a claim against Hungary; and other investors in cases against Georgia and Turkey.

Other clients include EDF, Bechtel, INA, OMV and Greywolf.

Track record

In 2015, the firm achieved its most remarkable result to date, winning an award worth US$455 million (with interest) for a Dutch unit of Owens-Illinois in a treaty claim against Venezuela over the expropriation of two bottle-manufacturing plants. That award is now the subject of annulment proceedings at ICSID and a US enforcement action, while a parallel ICSID arbitration brought by the investor’s local subsidiaries is pending.

Another great result was for Malaysia in a sensitive state-to-state dispute with Singapore worth around US$1 billion. A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2014 that Malaysia did not have to pay development charges on Singaporean land formerly occupied by Malayan Railways. Volterra Fietta co-counselled with Herbert Smith Freehills and James Crawford SC on the case.

Alongside Eversheds, Volterra Fietta also helped Colombia settle a five-year dispute with Ecuador on the eve of hearings at the ICJ in 2013. The case concerned Colombia’s spraying of aerial herbicide at the border to target coca plantations.

While at Latham, Volterra was part of a team that helped Ukraine to defeat an ICSID claim by German technology group GEA in 2011 (in a much-discussed award, a tribunal ruled that neither an ICC arbitral award nor a settlement agreement could qualify as an “investment”).

Recent events

Patricio Grané, an investment and trade law specialist who joined the partnership in 2013, left to rejoin his old firm Arnold & Porter in London in 2016.

Business and human rights lawyer Suzanne Spears was promoted to partner, six months after she joined the firm as counsel. She previously spent eight years at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in London, where she’d worked with Gary Born.

Volterra Fietta succeeded in knocking out a US$26 million investment treaty claim against Barbados over the state’s alleged failure to take environmental measures to protect a nature sanctuary in a wetlands area. An UNCITRAL tribunal awarded the state US$3 million in costs after finding that the Canadian claimant had failed to demonstrate any environmental degradation at the site for which Barbados could be held liable.

Client comment

Mary Beth Wilkinson at Owens Illinois says: “From the beginning, Volterra Fietta has been strategic, careful, fair in billing, hardworking, and dedicated to serving us well. [I] never would recommend them to a foe. Only to a friend if there would be no conflict in continuing to represent us. We have re-hired them for a new matter.”