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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Von Wobeser y Sierra SC

04 April 2018

The Mexican market leader is home to a prominent ICSID arbitrator

People in Who’s Who Legal 2
People in Future Leaders 2
Pending cases as counsel 15
Value of pending counsel work US$2.5 billion
Treaty cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments
6 (of which 2 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 1

Von Wobeser y Sierra’s international arbitration practice is one of the best options in Mexico – thanks partly to the impressive international profile of the firm’s founder, Claus von Wobeser.

On top of multiple bar association roles, von Wobeser is a former vice president of the ICC Court and is regularly seen arbitrating commercial and investor-state disputes. He has lately been on ICSID panels hearing claims against Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Poland and Romania. In addition, he has sat alone in a rare ICSID conciliation proceeding filed by Equatorial Guinea against CMS Energy Corporation.

The arbitration and litigation practice is headed by Marco Tulio Venegas, who has helped to build a team of around 12 lawyers versed in arbitration. Adrián Magallanes, who was promoted to partner in 2013, is considered a rising star.

The fourth partner in the group is Diego Sierra, who combines international arbitration with an anticorruption practice.

Who uses it?

Around 70% of its clients are from the US, Germany and Asia (especially Japan). Foreign companies often retain the firm as counsel or Mexican law experts in major disputes involving Mexico’s national oil company Pemex, electricity utility CFE and other state entities.

It has advised construction companies ICA and KBR and other clients including Siemens, Mitsui Group, Mitsubishi and the Coca-Cola Company. British American Tobacco instructed the firm for a US$300 million dispute with a Japanese joint venture partner. Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch InBev used it in a substantial case brought by Mexico’s Grupo Modelo.

Track record

Anheuser-Busch won the arbitration with Grupo Modelo – prompting the boss to take the team on a night out. “When I received the award, I was compelled to find the arbitration team and celebrate,” von Wobeser says.

The firm also secured a win for Mexican client ICA in a multimillion-dollar claim regarding the construction of a hydroelectric project. Following the win, ICA has instructed Von Wobeser y Sierra in a number of its most important arbitrations.

In 2015, the firm helped Siemens and South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction settle a bitter dispute with Pemex over a refinery upgrade, with the state entity agreeing to pay US$295 million. The dispute had given rise to a decade-long ICC arbitration and a final award worth almost US$600 million, which Von Wobeser y Sierra helped to defend from attacks in the Mexican courts.

Claus von Wobeser also provided expert testimony on Mexican law on behalf of KBR in another long-running dispute with Pemex over the construction of two offshore gas platforms. He gave evidence in the arbitration, which ended in a US$300 million award in KBR’s favour in 2009, and in New York enforcement proceedings – generating a precedent on the ability of US courts to enforce annulled awards. Pemex finally paid US$435 million to satisfy the award in 2017.

Von Wobeser y Sierra has also proved adept at winning interim relief for clients under the ICC’s emergency arbitrator provisions. In 2015, it helped a group of shareholders in Mexican insurer Seguros Argos win emergency relief against Dutch insurance group Aegon, requiring it to comply with certain shareholder obligations – before leading the clients to victory in the ensuing arbitration.

In another ICC case, involving a claim of over US$100 million, it helped IEnova (a joint venture between California’s Sempra Energy and Pemex) settle a dispute with Italian-Argentine engineering group Techint over the construction of a 220-kilometre ethane pipeline in southern Mexico.

Recent events

The firm helped ICA to settle an ICC arbitration worth US$450 million over the alleged wrongful termination of a contract for the construction of a port terminal on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

In another ICC arbitration, the firm obtained a favourable award for an independent energy producer in a dispute with CFE over the termination of a power purchase agreement. The client obtained 88% of the amount claimed in damages and lost profits, and the termination was revoked.

Von Wobeser continues to be one of the most in-demand arbitrators in Latin America. He chaired an UNCITRAL panel sitting in the The Hague which awarded a former subsidiary of Petrobras and its partners US$515 million in a dispute with Ecuador over two nationalised oil projects in the Amazon. The award was issued in early 2018.

He is also sitting on a panel hearing a claim by port operator DP World against Peru over a US$750 million tender.

The firm hired the former president of the Mexican Supreme Court, Guillermo Ortiz Mayagoitia, as of counsel. Montserrat Manzano, was promoted to partner in Mexico City.

Client comment

Lee Huckstep, Houston-based assistant general counsel at KBR, says that he goes to the firm “again and again” for its “excellent work”, and that he has recommended Von Wobeser y Sierra to others.

“They were 100% involved in the case,” said a senior executive at one of Mexico’s largest infrastructure companies. “They rapidly absorbed key information, such as dates, the actors involved and even technical aspects related to civil engineering and ports operation. My impression is that they were totally committed.”

Jesus Alvelais of energy infrastructure group IEnova says Claus von Wobeser is an “excellent lawyer with a lot of experience, very strategic and efficient”.

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