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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Volterra Fietta

04 April 2018

Won another big award against Venezuela and took on a new billion-dollar mandate

People in Who’s Who Legal 1
People in Future Leaders 2
Pending cases as counsel 21
Value of pending counsel work US$11 billion
Treaty cases 18

Robert Volterra and Stephen Fietta left Latham & Watkins in 2011 to set up this London-based boutique dedicated to public international law and international arbitration. Though Fietta exited in 2015 to set up his own PIL-focused shop, and a couple of other partners have left more recently, its reputation in this area hasn’t faltered.

Volterra, a Canadian who cut his teeth working with Jan Paulsson in Paris and then later at Herbert Smith, has counsel experience in a variety of PIL forums. He has acted for states including Bahrain, Barbados, Chile and Eritrea in territorial and maritime boundary disputes before the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. He’s also increasingly visible as an arbitrator.

The firm added to the partnership for the first time in 2013, recruiting Graham Coop, a former general counsel of the Energy Charter Secretariat. A rising star within the practice is Giorgio Mandelli, who joined as counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in 2014 and was promoted to the partnership in the following year.

The firm’s fourth partner is Suzanne Spears, who joined as counsel from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in 2015 and was promoted within six months. She has experience in business and human rights law.

Two other partners who joined the firm have since left – former Canadian government lawyer Christophe Bondy and investment and trade law specialist Patricio Grané. Bondy left for Cooley in 2017, while Grané left in 2016 for Arnold & Porter.

Who uses it?

Government clients include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Barbados, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. It is defending Egypt in an ICSID claim brought by Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera relating to the imprisonment of journalists.

In 2017, Robert Volterra was appointed to the UK Attorney General’s public international law “A panel” of counsel, the preferred advisors of the UK government. Graham Coop was appointed to the “B panel”.

India included Volterra Fietta on a shortlist of 12 firms in the running to advise the state on investment treaty matters.

Corporate clients at ICSID include Koch Industries (owned by prominent US Republican Party donors Charles and David Koch) and bottle-maker Owens-Illinois in claims against Venezuela; and a Cypriot company linked to US businessman Ronald Lauder in a claim against Hungary. It has advised other investors in cases against Georgia and Turkey.

Other clients include EDF, Bechtel, INA, OMV and Greywolf.

Track record

One of its biggest wins came in 2015 when it obtained an ICSID award worth US$455 million (with interest) for a Dutch unit of Owens-Illinois in a treaty claim against Venezuela over the expropriation of two bottle-manufacturing plants. Owens-Illinois later sold the award debt to an Irish investment fund, which is pursuing enforcement in the US courts.

Another great result was for Malaysia in a sensitive state-to-state dispute with Singapore worth around US$1 billion. A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2014 that Malaysia did not have to pay development charges on Singaporean land formerly occupied by Malayan Railways. Volterra Fietta co-counselled with Herbert Smith Freehills and James Crawford SC on the case.

For Barbados, it defeated a US$26 million investment treaty claim brought by a Canadian businessman over the state’s alleged failure to take environmental measures to protect a nature sanctuary. The state won costs after the tribunal found no evidence of environmental degradation at the site for which the state could be blamed.

Alongside Eversheds, Volterra Fietta also helped Colombia settle a five-year dispute with Ecuador on the eve of hearings at the ICJ in 2013. The case concerned Colombia’s spraying of aerial herbicide at the border to target coca plantations.

While at Latham, Volterra was part of a team that helped Ukraine to defeat an ICSID claim by German technology group GEA in 2011.

Recent events

Co-counselling with US firm Cooley, Volterra Fietta helped secure another large ICSID award against Venezuela. A tribunal ordered the state to pay US$409 million plus interests and costs to two Swiss subsidiaries of Koch Industries for the expropriation of a pair of fertiliser plants.

A second ICSID case the firm was pursuing for Owens-Illinois didn’t come off, however. Departing from recent case law, a tribunal held it lacked jurisdiction to hear claims filed after Venezuela’s notice of denunciation of the ICSID Convention six years ago. The billion-dollar claim concerned the same expropriations at issue in the earlier successful case for Owens-Illinois, but was brought by different companies in the same vertical ownership chain.

The firm was instructed for a billion-dollar treaty claim against the Czech Republic – the latest twist in a two-decade dispute relating to the collapse of Liechtenstein company Diag Human’s blood plasma trading business in the 1990s.

The firm continues to defend Nigeria in a US$2 billion ICSID claim over an oil exploration and production joint venture. Merits hearings took place in July 2017 and the state has since sought to disqualify all three arbitrators hearing the case.

Robert Volterra is sitting as co-arbitrator on a UNCITRAL panel hearing a US$100 million claim against Ukraine over the expropriation of a chocolate factory. Volterra dissented from the panel’s emergency protection order in favour of US-Russian claimant Igor Boyko, who alleged he had been violently beaten while in custody of Ukrainian police.

Client comment

MaryBeth Wilkinson at Owens-Illinois says: “From the beginning, Volterra Fietta has been strategic, careful, fair in billing, hardworking, and dedicated to serving us well . . . [I] never would recommend them to a foe.”



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