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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Baker Botts

04 April 2018

Acting for Samsung against Saudi Arabia

People in Who’s Who Legal 5
People in Future Leaders 37
Value of pending counsel work
US$20 billion
Treaty cases 1
Current arbitrator appointments 5 (of which 5 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 2

Acting for Samsung against Saudi Arabia

Traditionally pre-eminent in oil and gas, the Houston firm has been involved in overseas disputes for many decades. One of the firm’s partners served as an umpire on post-First World War mixed claims commissions. Baker Botts launched a dedicated international arbitration practice group in 2001 and since then has appeared regularly on major international disputes, including a case against Yemen that was the most valuable ICC matter of its day.

More recently, Russia asked it to be the strategic coordinator for all Yukos-related arbitrations and enforcement proceedings – including the Energy Charter Treaty claim by the bankrupt oil company’s majority shareholders that resulted in a record-breaking US$50 billion award against the state in 2014.

Since 2010, the group has been co-chaired by Jay Alexander in London and Michael Goldberg in Houston and New York. Other names to know include Philip Punwar and Jonathan Sutcliffe in Dubai and Ryan Bull in New York and Ivan Marsin and Vasily Kuznetsov in Moscow, who joined the firm from Quinn Emanuel in 2016.

The London office is home to Alejandro Escobar, a former ICSID senior counsel who is active in Latin America-related investment treaty work, and Johannes Koepp, who featured in GAR’s “45 under 45” ranking of leading younger practitioners in 2011.

Network

The most important office for the international arbitration group is London, which fields partners with civil and common law backgrounds. But there are also personnel in Dubai, Moscow, Houston, New York, and Washington, DC. The wider firm has offices in 14 cities, including Beijing, Brussels and Hong Kong.

Who uses it?

The firm’s work for Russia in the Yukos cases has been well documented. It also acts for Russian state oil and gas companies Rosneft and Gazprom and a number of leading financial institutions in that country (including VTB Capital).

Other energy clients include ExxonMobil, Cobalt Energy, Chevron, Total and Hunt Oil. The firm has also represented Rio Tinto, PT Bumi Resources, Kia Motors Corporation, chemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, China’s Huawei Technologies and South Korea’s Samsung.

State clients for investment treaty matters include Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Track record

The firm helped a national oil company defeat a US$6.5 billion claim under the Swiss Rules, after proving that the underlying contracts had been back-dated and forged.

It also helped a major Asian telecoms client defeat a US$4 billion ICDR claim arising from allegations of faulty equipment and network design. The client won the termination of the contract and the firm successfully defended the award in annulment proceedings.

In the ICC case against Yemen mentioned above, the firm helped its clients Hunt Oil and ExxonMobil to win costs, some damages and, most importantly, the dismissal of an US$8 billion counterclaim.

On the defence side, the firm helped Ecuador defeat a US$55 million investment treaty claim brought by an affiliate of US hedge fund manager Elliott Associates in 2012. The state won a costs award that was successfully enforced.

The firm also obtained a good result for Russia in one of the Yukos cases, an SCC claim brought by a group of Spanish investment funds that had a minority stake in the oil company. The funds won a final award of just US$2 million but the firm persuaded the Swedish courts to annul the award on jurisdictional grounds. The case had implications for numerous Communist-era bilateral investment treaties.

Baker Botts has also won US$200 million for Kia Motors in a dispute over a joint venture in Brazil; helped a general contracting company recover around US$25 million in a DIAC arbitration; and fended off a US$95 million claim in an arbitration over a heavy oil project in Latin America.

It touts expertise in fast-track arbitrations: for instance, in a dispute in which it won a US$100 million award for a French-Saudi Arabian client 120 days after filing a claim, and a sports sponsorship dispute in which it gained a favourable award for a US sports team within 90 days.

Recent events

In 2017, Baker Botts helped Costa Rica defeat a US$75 million ICSID claim brought by subsidiaries of Mexican gas distributor Grupo Zeta over alleged price-fixing in the liquefied petroleum gas market. The state was awarded part of its costs.

It helped Dubai-registered Compass Risk Management win US$31 million in a DIAC dispute with the UAE arm of Virginia-based Supreme Group in 2016. The dispute concerned unpaid invoices for security services Compass had provided for supply convoys to US, UK and NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan. Proceedings to enforce the award in the US are under way.

In an ICC arbitration seated in Dubai, the firm helped a Dubai property developer defeat a contractor’s US$90 million claim relating to the development of a residential skyscraper, winning US$29 million for the client

The firm assisted a leading producer of LNG in settling a US$1 billion price review claim that was heard under ICC rules in Geneva, after winning a partial award in the client’s favour. It is now acting for the same producer in an ICC claim against a contractor over alleged defective work on a pipeline that suffered catastrophic failures.

Other pending counsel work includes defending a Middle Eastern company against a US$6 billion arbitration claim regarding an entertainment complex being built in Dubai; and acting for Samsung in one of the first ICSID claims against Saudi Arabia – concerning a project to supply water to Medina. US energy company Cobalt has also instructed the firm for a pair of ICC arbitrations against Angola’s national oil company Sonangol relating to a pair of offshore oil blocks.

An unusual sports case saw the firm defend US basketball team the Houston Rockets in an ad hoc arbitration in New York against a US$35 million claim by a European player. The case, in which the National Basketball Association was also a respondent, was settled a week before the hearing without the firm’s client making any payment.

Client comment

Mariano Gomezperalta of aircraft finance provider Robert Wray worked with Baker Botts on an enforcement matter against Belize and had nothing but good things to say. The Baker Botts team “distinguished itself for its effectiveness and focus” and “did an excellent job at explaining the key points”, he said.

A biopharma client that used the firm says it was impressed with the “extremely professional and competent” Baker Botts team, particularly partner Johannes Koepp, who became an expert in the scientific aspects of the diseases at the heart of the dispute. “In Johannes I felt that I had a true partner, who could speak to me knowledgeably and efficiently about all aspects of my business.”

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