Won ICSID awards against Pakistan and Venezuela and helped to expose an Ecuadorean bribery scheme
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In the 1980s and 1990s, Baker McKenzie acted for US companies in a large number of claims against Iran at the Iran–United States Claims Tribunal in The Hague, becoming one of the first US law firms to acquire international arbitration expertise in the days before NAFTA and BIT claims. It went on to advise more than a dozen claimants against Iraq at the United Nations Compensation Commission after the first Gulf War. Since then, the firm has developed a thriving investment treaty arbitration practice alongside its commercial arbitration work.
Increasingly the firm is turning its attention to Asia. Partner Leng Sun Chan SC in Singapore took over as global chair of the international arbitration practice in 2015, replacing Grant Hanessian in New York and Günter Pickrahn in Frankfurt, who had shared the role for six years.
Hanessian remains head of the North America arbitration practice, and is alternate US member of the ICC Court. Various partners in other offices play an active role in the arbitration community. CIS disputes head Vladimir Khvalei in Moscow is a vice president of the ICC Court, chair of the Russian Arbitration Association, and former vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee. Habib Al Mulla in the UAE is chairman of the board of the Dubai International Arbitration Centre.
Another name to know is Andy Moody in London, an energy disputes specialist who joined from Eversheds in 2016.
Few practices have the same global reach as Baker McKenzie. The firm says it has around 200 lawyers working on international arbitration in more than 50 jurisdictions – though the number spending more than half their time in the field is closer to 70. Collectively, the group is fluent in more than 20 languages, including Haitian, Creole, Kazakh and Vietnamese.
Alongside the traditional centres, the arbitration practice has acquired outposts in Almaty, Caracas, Dubai, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Manila and Mexico City, and it is often the first port of call for clients with cross-border disputes in emerging jurisdictions. The firm’s Latin American network is particularly impressive, and appears to be bringing in more investment treaty work.
Who uses it?
Air Liquide, AnsaldoBreda, Bombardier, Czech bank CSOB, Dow Chemical, FedEx, GlaxoSmithKline, Hyundai, Lukoil, KPMG, Rio Tinto, Samsung, Shell, Siemens, Toshiba, Verizon, Walmart and 3M have all used the firm. Other clients include the British Olympic Association, FC Barcelona and Texan drilling contractor Weatherford.
The firm has also defended governments including Papua New Guinea, Hungary, Mongolia, Turkey and Uzbekistan as well as state-owned entities such as Mexico’s Pemex, Brazil’s Petrobras, Kazakh gas transportation company KazTransGaz and Kyrgyzstan’s national mining company Kyrgyzaltyn.
One of the firm’s biggest recent wins came in 2017 when it helped Turkish energy company Karkey Karadeniz win US$800 million in an ICSID claim against Pakistan concerning the detention of its power generation vessels during an energy crisis. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer co-counselled in the case. Pakistan is now trying to have the award annulled.
The firm has had success defending states too. Baker McKenzie’s associated Peruvian firm, Estudio Echecopar, teamed up with White & Case to help Peru defeat an US$800 million ICSID claim by the Renco Group concerning liability for an environmental clean-up in 2016. The same pairing of law firms helped the state settle a dispute with two Spanish power companies that had spawned three ICSID cases.
For Uzbekistan, Baker McKenzie secured a precedent-setting award in 2009 dismissing a wheat trader’s claim at the jurisdictional stage. The firm has also successfully defended Turkey against two treaty claims from Polish investors; and Papua New Guinea in an ICDR arbitration seated in New York.
In 2015, the firm helped Kazakh private equity group Visor Capital favourably settle a US$700 million ICSID claim against Kyrgyzstan over the country’s second-largest gold deposit.
On the commercial side, a team led by Hanessian helped Petrobras obtain a US$200 million award against former Halliburton subsidiary KBR in 2011 in a dispute over faulty oil platforms. The parties settled a year later.
Baker McKenzie brought in a great result for Weatherford in 2014, winning a US$45 million award against Dubai’s Gulf Oil and Gas in an ICC dispute over the development of a gas field in Turkmenistan.
In Prague, Martin Hrodek led a team that obtained an US$85 million ICC award for Czech bank CSOB in 2011 against the Czech Republic. It was one of the first arbitrations to consider the application of state aid laws to a bank bailout.
Besides the win for Karkey against Pakistan mentioned above, Baker McKenzie helped Dutch investor Longreef win US$53 million in an ICSID claim against Venezuela concerning the expropriation of a coffee producer.
It won a US$18 million award for Australian infrastructure client Cardno after persuading an ICDR tribunal that the client’s Ecuadorean business partners had engaged in a “far-reaching and intricate bribery scheme” to secure government contracts. The award led to criminal complaints against Ecuador’s then vice president and a former energy minister.
The firm represented two Chinese state-owned aviation companies in an ICC arbitration under California law, obtaining a US$21.8 million award in their favour. The case was a rare instance of a Chinese state-owned enterprise agreeing to arbitrate in the US as a claimant.
A team in Toronto convinced Canada’s Supreme Court to order the return of money paid into escrow by the firm’s client Kyrgyzaltyn, potentially bringing an end to attempts by four companies to enforce US$165 million in awards against Kyrgyzstan through shares the state entity held in Canada.
Andy Moody led a team in London that helped Meridian Port Holdings and its majority shareholders APM Terminals and Bolloré Africa Logistics to settle an ICC dispute with a minority shareholder relating to the development of Ghana’s largest seaport.
The firm lodged an US$180 million UNCITRAL claim against Georgia on behalf of KazTransGas under the Energy Charter Treaty; and a US$40 million treaty claim against Bosnia-Herzegovina on behalf of three Indian clients relating to an insurance privatisation.
Russian construction company Manolium retained it for a potential treaty claim against Belarus. The firm is representing Hungary in its attempt to annul a €23 million ICSID award in favour of a French voucher services provider.
The Frankfurt office continues to act for Siemens in a €6.2 billion ICC arbitration over a nuclear power plant in Finland. The case rumbles on still, with another partial award issued this year.
The firm hired Hogan Lovells partner Paul Teo in its Hong Kong office, who now heads the Greater China arbitration group, while Vienna partner Stefan Riegler left to head up the arbitration practice at Wolf Theiss. The firm promoted eight new partners in Vienna, Sydney, Santiago, Johannesburg, New York, Almaty and Barcelona.
Senior associate Kabir Duggal in New York acted as principal consultant on a UN initiative to help the world’s poorest countries with investment-related negotiations and dispute settlement, which began in January 2018. The initiative will seek to address imbalances between rich and poor states in negotiating investment treaties.
“Their dedication to the case is what we appreciate the most,” says Laura Anguera Armengol, director of legal services at football team FC Barcelona, which used the firm for an arbitration worth almost €40 million. She also praises “their dedication to the preparation of the witnesses and the hearing”.
Michael McNicholas, general counsel at Visor, says the firm was “very responsive” in its work on the Kyrgyzstan case mentioned above. They gave “solid legal advice” and “put together a strong cross-border litigation team”, he adds.