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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Homburger

09 March 2017

Helped to defeat a US$1.6 billion claim against a Middle Eastern state

People in Who’s Who Legal 3
Pending cases as counsel 20
Value of pending counsel work US$6.2 billion
Treaty cases 3
Current arbitrator appointments 22 (of which 11 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

Homburger was once the Zurich arm of Baker & McKenzie, breaking away to become an independent firm in 1991. The modern arbitration group emerged from a reorganisation seven years later by Markus Wirth, former president of the Swiss Arbitration Association, and Thomas Müller before he retired in 2014.

In 2010, Müller passed the mantle of practice leader to partner Felix Dasser. Another name to know at the firm is Balz Gross, who was a prominent figure during the Megafon saga about the ownership of a Russian telecoms company.

Gabrielle Nater-Bass, Georg Naegeli and Mariella Orelli are also well-known names. Nater-Bass is a vice president of ArbitralWomen, a body aimed at promoting women’s careers in dispute resolution.

Though present only in Zurich, the team comprises lawyers from civil and common law backgrounds, including some US-qualified lawyers. Like many firms in Switzerland – a country that encompasses German, French and Italian culture, and recognises four national languages  – it regards itself as “especially prepared” to offer a multicultural approach on cases.

Who uses it?

Homburger’s client list includes Swiss household names such as Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Novartis, Roche and Alpiq, as well as international names such as Sony Ericsson, Vivendi, Sky, Andritz Oy, Generali, Takeda and Malaysian Airline System Berhad. In recent years, the firm has reported an uptick in telecoms and pharmaceuticals clients.

It has also acted for government clients in the Middle East such as Jordan.

Track record

As part of a group of law firms, Homburger achieved remarkable results in the Megafon proceedings. The team turned the arbitration around by producing evidence of money laundering and corruption in Russia. It overturned an unfavourable award in what was the first successful revision of an award before the Swiss Federal Tribunal on such grounds, before winning the main dispute.

But Homburger has also had other high points in recent times. In 2015, a team headed by Balz Gross helped a Jordanian state-owned investment fund to defeat a US$130 million LCIA claim by a company owned by Qatari investor Ali Alyafei – persuading a sole arbitrator that a purported deal to acquire a stake in a bank relied on a forged signature.

Homburger ensured that award was upheld in the Swiss courts in the following year, and helped Jordan secure the discontinuance of related ICSID and UNCITRAL claims worth US$500 million that Alyafei had brought under two obscure regional investment treaties (signed by member states of the Arab League and of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, respectively).

Other highlights include Dasser’s negotiation of a US$156 million settlement for German technology firm Infineon in an IP arbitration with a Taiwanese company; and a win for Swiss power utility Alpiq against Italy’s Enel in a dispute over long-term electricity supply contracts. It has also helped Alpiq win €43 million in a VIAC claim against Polish energy group PGE, and is representing the same client in an Energy Charter Treaty claim against Romania.  

In a couple of recent ICC cases, Homburger says it succeeded in persuading the tribunal of misbehaviour by the opposing party. In one case, the client was the buyer in a major M&A transaction, who accused the seller of massaging financial results. In the other case, the firm helped a European state-owned company prevail in a misrepresentation claim against a US trading company.

Recent events

Besides the success for Jordan already mentioned, the firm helped to win the dismissal of a US$1.6 billion claim against a Middle Eastern state and state-owned fund brought under a partnership agreement. The defence required an analysis of the past 30 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 11 days of hearings and 40 witnesses presented. Mariella Orelli led the team.

Away from counsel work, members of the firm found time to sit as arbitrator on some big-ticket cases. Gabrielle Nater-Bass chaired an ICC tribunal that rejected a US$1.4 billion claim brought by Chinese oil and gas company PetroTrans against Ethiopia over a natural gas development project.

Meanwhile partner Markus Wirth sat on an ICC tribunal in a €1.2 billion ICC dispute over the construction of a power plant on the Rhine, which saw an award handed down in November 2016.

Partner Felix Dasser gave guidance to the Swiss government over proposed amendments to the country’s arbitration statute.

Client comment

One client says he hired the firm on account of its expertise in Swiss law and got more value than he bargained for: “The request for arbitration was drafted particularly well, and it clearly showed the other party that they would lose the case. They immediately proposed a settlement and we settled the case within a few weeks,” he notes.

Another client tells GAR that Balz Gross’s experience made the firm’s work “very convincing”, as did the tactical skills of the rest of the team and their ability to analyse every detail of a complicated case.