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GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Schönherr

10 March 2017

Has won a string of victories for Montenegro

Pending cases as counsel 6
Value of pending counsel work US$750 million
Treaty cases 5
Current arbitrator appointments 5 (of which 4 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 3

Founded more than 50 years ago, Schönherr is part of the Austrian establishment. As such, it has long been counsel to numerous big-name companies in central and eastern Europe. In 2000, the firm decided to expand its service to include a focused international arbitration practice.

Hellwig Torggler and Gerold Zeiler were instrumental in training up the team (the firm opted to grow its own rather than make lateral hires). Both later left to set up their own firms, Torggler in 2007 and Zeiler in 2014.

Since Zeiler’s move, the arbitration practice is headed by Christoph Lindinger, also Schönherr’s managing partner. The team includes partner Anne-Karin Grill and counsel Leon Kopecky in Vienna.

Network

The anchor of the practice is Vienna but the firm is present in 11 other countries across central and eastern Europe and the Balkans. It also has an office in Brussels and has had a cooperation agreement with a firm in Istanbul since 2009, where the local disputes head is Murat Canyürek. There are country desks for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Who uses it?

The arbitration group’s focus is on energy or investment work – much of it related to central and eastern Europe. It has acted for German energy group RWE in various oil and gas arbitrations, as well as Romania’s OMV Petrom. Siemens, Spanish carmaker SEAT and Kosovo’s Dardafone have also relied on the firm.

On the government side, it has represented the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Moldova and Republika Srpska in disputes arising from investments in energy, metals, banking, agriculture and real estate, including at ICSID.

Track record

The firm has obtained particularly impressive results for Montenegro. In 2016, it helped the state see off its first ICSID case – a €100 million claim brought by a pair of Dutch investors in a bankrupt steel plant.

Later in the year, it helped the state prevail in a pair of cases brought by companies linked to Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska and his En+ Group concerning a bankrupt aluminium smelting business. One of these, a €600 million ICSID claim, was tossed out at the jurisdictional phase after Schönherr persuaded the tribunal that the claimant didn’t have a “seat” or registered office in Cyprus and therefore couldn’t invoke the Cyprus-Montenegro investment treaty (the claimant is now trying to have that award annulled).

Schönherr also helped Montenegro defeat the bulk of a €650 million contractual claim brought by Deripaska’s companies, with an UNCITRAL panel in Vienna awarding its client damages in a counterclaim.

The firm scored a big win for the government of Republika Srpska in a case against Czech energy conglomerate CEZ, knocking the claim out at the jurisdictional phase.

As for private clients, it defended Swiss retail holding group Valora in a post-M&A dispute heard in Frankfurt, with the tribunal rejecting all claims against the client in 2015.

It has also secured favourable settlements for Austrian oil and gas firm OMV in two ICC cases relating to a post-M&A dispute and a petroleum concession in Pakistan, having replaced another GAR 100 firm on the matter.

Recent events

Besides the results for Montenegro already mentioned, Schönherr obtained another victory in the Balkans on behalf of Kosovan mobile phone operator Dardafone (which trades as Z-Mobile). It helped the client win over €30 million from government-owned Telecom Kosovo in early 2017, in what has been described as the largest commercial arbitration to arise out of the disputed state of Kosovo.

A new instruction came from Austrian logistics company Kunsttrans in an ICSID claim against Serbia relating to a contract for the storage of the National Museum of Serbia’s art collection during renovation works. The firm also continues to defend Moldova against an ICSID claim over agricultural leases.