• Search

GAR 100 - 10th Edition

Dechert

10 March 2017

Helped Ecuador win a landmark counterclaim against ConocoPhillips for environmental damage in the Amazon

People in Who’s Who Legal 5
Pending cases as counsel 43
Value of pending counsel work US$88 billion
Treaty cases 13
Current arbitrator appointments 85 (of which 38 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 11

Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the now defunct New York firm whose Paris office served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, Rusty Park, Julian Lew QC and Laurie Craig, to name but a few).

When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005 (after the aforementioned names had long since left), six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert, joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer. Their arrival was followed by a steady rise up the rankings in Paris and more broadly. Several of the team are well regarded as academics and sit as arbitrators.

Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the past few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Moscow and Washington, DC.

The Moscow office opened in 2009, with a four-strong arbitration team from Salans. In 2011, it bolstered its Asia profile by hiring another Coudert alumnus, Jingzhou Tao, who joined in Beijing as head of Asia arbitration. In the same year, the DC office recruited Alvaro Galindo, the former director of international arbitration matters at Ecuador’s attorney general’s office.

For a long time, the practice was co-headed by Mayer and Silva Romero. Mayer left the firm in 2015 to set up as an independent arbitrator, but the group filled the gap swiftly with the lateral hire of a team from Weil Gotshal & Manges, including Arif Hyder Ali, who became the new group co-head and brought substantial investment arbitration experience.

Silva Romero is a French-Colombian national and former deputy secretary general of the ICC Court as well as a co-chair of the International Bar Association’s arbitration committee. He has spearheaded Dechert’s busy Latin American casework – the Paris office is home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish-speaking disputes lawyers in the city.

Network

The arbitration practice is mostly concentrated in Paris, London, Singapore, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington, DC, with more recent additions including Dubai, Almaty and Tbilisi. The firm’s New York office also has a strong reputation for litigation and enforcement work.

Who uses it?

States and state-backed entities are frequent clients. Taiwan’s government and navy retained the firm for a high-profile ICC claim against French defence contractor Thales involving allegations of kickbacks, while Spanish shipbuilder Navantia used it in a submarine dispute. Other clients include Hungary’s MOL and Paraguayan oil and gas provider Petropar.

The team seems to have a good reputation among Latin American governments. Ecuador has used it on some weighty investment treaty cases, and has also engaged it to deal with disputes arising from the appropriation of the country’s cultural heritage. Bolivia has retained it on various treaty cases, and it’s more recently been defending Colombia. Away from that region, Georgia and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah are also clients.

Dechert also advises ExxonMobil, France Télécom, Total, London-listed Green Dragon Gas and Brazilian sugar cane investor Adriano Ometto. The New York office helped US hedge fund NML Capital in its long-running efforts to force Argentina to honour its defaulted sovereign debt obligations in the US courts.

Track record

One of the firm’s biggest recent triumphs was helping Hungarian oil and gas company MOL to defeat a billion-dollar UNCITRAL claim by Croatia that involved allegations of corruption against the Balkan state’s former prime minister. The tribunal rejected the claims entirely in late 2016; a parallel ICSID claim continues. Arif Ali’s old firm Weil Gotshal is co-counselling on the case.

Dechert achieved another spectacular result for Ecuador in 2015, when it persuaded an ICSID annulment committee to shave some US$700 million off an award in favour of Occidental Petroleum – the largest amount ever annulled at ICSID. The US oil company had originally won US$1.76 billion plus interest in compensation for an expropriated oil block, but the annulment committee said this amount wrongly included a 40% stake in the project that had been farmed out to a third party. Ecuador reached a final settlement with Occidental in early 2016, agreeing to pay US$980 million.

The Thales case made the headlines in 2010 when Dechert’s client won €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling).

Depending on your point of view, the firm also scored a victory for France Télécom in a complicated dispute with Orascom for control of Egyptian mobile network Mobinil. An ICC tribunal found in favour of France Télécom in 2009 and ordered Orascom to sell its stake in Mobinil (the sale didn’t happen in the end – the Egyptian government brokered a settlement under rather different terms: France Télécom paid Orascom US$300 million).

Dechert helped Bolivia settle an expropriation claim by a Dutch unit of Telecom Italia for US$100 million – about 10 per cent of what the investor had asked for. Around the same time, the firm helped the state settle a treaty claim at The Hague brought by a German-Peruvian oil consortium for US$16 million – around half of what the claimants wanted.

Recent events

The firm helped Ecuador conclude a decade-long ICSID case brought by a ConcocoPhillips subsidiary in early 2017. The tribunal awarded Conoco just US$380 million of the US$1.5 billion it had sought for lost oil profits and made history by granting Ecuador a US$42 million counterclaim for environmental damage to the Ecuadorean Amazon.

Colombia instructed a team led by Eduardo Silva Romero to defend the state’s first ever ICSID claim – filed by Glencore over a concession agreement for one of South America’s largest mines. His team continues to defend Bolivia in another treaty claim by Glencore over the May Day nationalisation of a tin and zinc mine.

Paraguayan state entity Petropar has retained the team to defend an ICC claim by its Venezuelan counterpart, PDVSA, concerning US$265 million in unpaid debts.

Arif Ali led a team that convinced a panel of well-known US arbitrators that a Californian internet regulator had failed to uphold its “core values” of non-discrimination and transparency when it denied his client Dot Registry the right to top level domains designed for businesses.

In a sports context, partner Mark Mangan in Singapore convinced a CAS tribunal to allow Korean swimmer Park Tae-Hwan to compete at the Rio Olympics – by temporarily suspending a national rule that automatically bans athletes found guilty of doping for three years after their ban expires.

Former head of the London international arbitration practice Tim Lindsey left Dechert to rejoin the partnership at Lowndes Jordan in New Zealand. Dubai-based construction specialist Nabeel Ikram moved to Hogan Lovells. Another construction lawyer, Ravinder Bhullar, joined the same office as a partner from Nabarro.

In New York, John Roesser joined as a partner after two years at Arnold & Porter. Counsel Janie Wong joined the firm in Hong Kong.

Client comment

Pal Kara from MOL says Ali’s team is “outstanding, very focused, very client-oriented and client-friendly”. Besides praising the dedication of the team, he says Ali has “impressive strategic thinking and consideration for all the details.”

Dot Registry says Ali’s team did “an outstanding job,” calling them “brilliant lawyers… [who] have left no stone unturned in our case”.

Adriana Vargas Saldarriaga from the Colombian ministry of trade said the government has been extremely pleased with the “quality and quickness” of the firm’s work. Silva Romero is a “problem-solver“ who has mastery of his subject, she says.  

A representative from Ecuador’s attorney general’s office says the state has worked with Dechert on eight cases and has an “excellent relationship” with the firm. She says the group has “young and talented lawyers” with foreign-language skills, and important knowledge of international law, commercial arbitration and cross-examination techniques.

Related articles