The Austrian firm has a new practice head
|People in Who’s Who Legal||1|
|Pending cases as counsel||21|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$2.6 billion|
|Current arbitrator appointments||
4 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||2|
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 as counsel and arbitrator, Liebscher left to set up on his own in 2014.
The leadership of the practice has changed a few more times since then. Florian Haugeneder, who took over as head of arbitration after Liebscher’s departure, left the firm in 2016 along with partner Bettina Knötzl to start a new firm, called Knoetzl.
Following those departures, Clemens Trauttenberg in Vienna assumed the leadership and oversaw a 2016 relaunch of the practice that emphasised its regional reach and focus on investment arbitration and energy, telecoms and construction disputes.
In 2018, the firm announced the hire of Stefan Riegler from Baker McKenzie’s Vienna office, who has become the new head of international arbitration. He brings experience in post-M&A, banking, competition, insolvency and energy disputes and is a member of the ICC’s commision on arbitration and ADR.
Another name to know is counsel Ceyda Akbal Schwimann, a Turkish attorney also qualified in the UK who joined in Vienna in 2016 and has ICSID experience.
The arbitration practice is focused in Vienna, with capability in Budapest, Kiev, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw, Zagreb and other cities in central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.
Who uses it?
The firm’s clients include Danish-Polish Telecommunication Group, Hungarian oil and gas group MOL, Shell, ExxonMobil, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Red Bull, German retailer 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 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 2012
The firm 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 2016, 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.
Partner Dalibor Valincˇic´ in the Zagreb office was part of a co-counsel team that successfully defended Hungary’s 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 bribes to Croatia’s former prime minister Ivo Sanader. An UNCITRAL tribunal threw out all the claims in 2016, and the award was upheld by the Swiss courts.
Valerie Hohenberg was promoted to partner and Ceyda Akbal Schwimann to counsel in the Vienna office. Gábor Bárdosi in Budapest was also made counsel.
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.
At her former firm Specht Böhm, Ceyda Akbal Schwimann helped the insolvent Nabucco gas pipeline joint venture settle an ICSID claim against Turkey in 2015. The company’s liquidator, Alexander Walther of professional services group TMF in Austria, says Akbal Schwimann “showed enormous strength 24/7, profound legal knowledge and negotiation skills”, which helped to secure the settlement. “She played all her cards in a most skilful way”, he adds.