The Austrian firm helped Hungary’s MOL defeat corruption claims by Croatia
|Pending cases as counsel||18|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$2.6 billion|
|Current arbitrator appointments||8 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||4|
Wolf Theiss was established in Vienna more than 55 years ago. The firm is now made up of some 320 lawyers, based in 13 countries across central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Christoph Liebscher’s arrival at the firm in 1997 contributed greatly to the growth of the arbitration practice. A renowned name in the field, Liebscher acted as both counsel and arbitrator, but left to set up on his own in 2014. Florian Haugeneder, who took over as head of arbitration following Liebscher’s departure, also left the firm in early 2016 along with partner Bettina Knötzl to start a new firm, called Knoetzl.
In the wake of those departures, Clemens Trauttenberg in Vienna has assumed the leadership of the practice. “We have the opportunity to redesign our arbitration practice, which is still very much active, especially in construction work,” Trauttenberg told GAR.
The firm’s arbitration practice is focused in Vienna, but lately, it has been developing capability in Budapest, Kiev, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw and Zagreb.
Who uses it?
The firm’s clients include Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Danish-Polish Telecommunication Group, Hungarian oil and gas group MOL, Shell, ExxonMobil, Kraft Foods, Germany’s retail company Metro Group, and the Strauss Group. Belgian power company Electrabel used it (alongside Clifford Chance) for a €700 million Energy Charter Treaty claim against Hungary. It has also advised Hungarian and Croatian oil and gas companies in ICC proceedings against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Danish-Polish Telecommunication Group (DPTG) called on Wolf Theiss when it needed to bring UNCITRAL claims against various opponents over a miscalculation in revenue – and won nearly €400 million in a partial award in 2010, which Wolf Theiss successfully defended in the Vienna courts. DPTG eventually received €550 million in a settlement in 2012.
Wolf Theiss also tasted success in a high-stakes case for the Coca-Cola Export Corporation, which faced allegations of collusion in a US$110 million arbitration with a Cayman company. The case related to a joint venture in Uzbekistan and was widely reported in the press – posing a serious threat to Coca-Cola’s reputation. The 2009 award saw all corruption charges against the client dismissed.
In another matter, the firm advised Tirana International Airport when a local subcontractor brought a claim for reimbursement of tax liabilities. During ICC proceedings, Wolf Theiss convinced the arbitral tribunal to dismiss the claimant’s case.
Erste Bank was another happy client. It avoided paying €18 million in damages thanks to Wolf Theiss’ successful representation.
Following the departure of Haugeneder and Knötzl, the firm recruited counsel Valentina Wong, who sits as arbitrator and serves as co-chair of the Young Austrian Arbitration Practitioners. It also welcomed Turkish consultant Ceyda Akbal Schwimann, who recently advised Red Bull in an ICC claim against its former business partners. Energy specialist Radoslav Mikov in Sofia was promoted to the partnership.
Partner Dalibor Valinčić in the Zagreb office was part of a large co-counsel team that successfully defended MOL against an UNCITRAL claim brought by the Croatian government. The Balkan state had sought to nullify an agreement relating to a valuable oil and gas joint venture on the grounds that MOL had paid US$13 million in bribes to Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader. A tribunal threw out all the claims in late 2016. (Dechert, Weil Gotshal & Manges and Schellenberg Witmer were also part of MOL’s team.)
Meanwhile the firm helped an Indian affiliate of Dubai-based duty-free store operator Flemingo International win more than €20 million in an investment treaty claim against Poland relating to the termination of leases for duty-free shops in a Warsaw airport.
Another win was for Austrian Printing House in an ICC claim against Kosovo after funds intended to satisfy an invoice for passport printing services were deposited in the wrong bank account and allegedly stolen by a fraudster.
The firm also picked up an instruction from the Bulgarian branch of Swiss energy group Axpo Group for a dispute over a power plant.
Inder Tiwana, general counsel at Flemingo International, has high praise for members of the Warsaw office for being knowledgeable and efficient and making sure that “nothing gets lost in translation” for non-Polish clients.
Krzysztof Zoła, chief financial officer of Polish steel company Cognor, says that Vienna-based partner Andrea Gritsch impressed with her dedication and attention, leading a “perfectly organised” team.