Bringing a US$12 billion claim against Russia
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Betto Seraglini was formed in 2013 by Jean-Georges Betto, formerly of Hogan Lovells, and Christophe Seraglini from White & Case.
Both had an impressive track record at their former firms. In 2010, Betto helped French naval defence contractor DCNS (now known as Naval Group) settle a billion-euro arbitration with Spanish state-owned shipbuilder Navantia over the alleged theft of trade secrets concerning a new model of submarine. Two years later, he helped the same company knock out the bulk of a €45 million ICC claim brought by the Taiwanese government.
Seraglini was part of the White & Case team that helped a Lebanese businessman win a €550 million award against the Republic of the Congo in 2013 in a dispute over a 30-year old debt arising from a public works contract.
In 2015, the firm recruited partner Julien Fouret from Castaldi Mourre & Partners, the former home of the current president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration, Alexis Mourre. Other partners to know are Gaëlle Le Quillec, formerly of Hogan Lovells, and recent arrivals Dominique Perben and Gaëlle Filhol. Perben is a former justice minister of France, while Filhol joined from White & Case.
Who uses it?
The firm’s recent international clients include Russian oligarch Sergei Pugachev, Romanian-Australian mining magnate Frank Timiș, Italy’s Saipem and the Opportunity Group, a private equity group set up by Brazilian banker Daniel Dantas. Gabon is an example of a government client.
Besides DCNS, French companies that have turned to the firm include aircraft engineering group Safran, rail company Alstom and hospitality group Accor (in a dispute with Togo).
Between 2013 and 2015, it represented Bernard Tapie, the controversial French businessman whose €403 million arbitral award against a French state entity over the sale of the Adidas sportswear group in the 1990s became a national scandal.
The firm is particularly well known for West Africa-related work.
There have been further victories for DCNS. It helped the group prevail in 2014 in an ICC claim against a subsidiary of Italian defence contractor Finmeccanica over a cancelled torpedo venture. DCNS was awarded €6 million while defeating a €78 million counterclaim. In another case, the firm helped DCNS defeat a US$180 million claim brought over a failed joint venture in the Middle East, while winning costs.
Gabon turned to Betto Seraglini to defend a US$1 billion ICC claim brought by Chinese-owned Addax Petroleum over oilfield rights. The firm won an early round of that case in 2013, with the tribunal refusing to grant interim measures in Addax’s favour. The dispute settled a year later.
The firm helped a consortium including Tecnimont and Saipem defend an ICC award in a dispute with Engie that generated a landmark ruling by France’s supreme administrative court on its power to review arbitral awards arising from public works contracts.
Fugitive former banker Sergei Pugachev asked Betto Seraglini to replace another GAR 100 firm as counsel in a US$12 billion investment treaty claim against Russia over the expropriation of his business interests.
Fouret and Le Quillec won an interim award from an UNCITRAL tribunal in July 2017 that required Russia to suspend its request for the extradition of Pugachev from France. However, they failed to win the suspension of civil and criminal proceedings against him in Russia and other jurisdictions. Pugachev, who is accused of causing the collapse of one of Russia’s largest private banks, has already been found in contempt by the English courts for violating a freezing order and fleeing the country.
Betto and Fouret continue to act for Pan African Minerals, a company owned by Frank Timiș, in a US$4 billion ICC claim against Burkina Faso. The claim relates to the suspension of operations at one of the world’s largest manganese mines.
The firm is awaiting a final award in a €45 million ICC claim that it brought for hospitality group Accor against Togo over the state’s refusal to renew a lease for a seafront hotel. It is also defending a favourable award on jurisdiction in the same case against a challenge by Togo in the French courts.
An ICC claim that the firm brought on behalf of French-owned company AfricaRail against the governments of Niger and Benin has reportedly been suspended. The case concerns a proposed rail loop around West Africa.
Together with Shearman & Sterling, the firm is representing Opportunity Group and its founder Daniel Dantas in their efforts to have an ICC award annulled by the French courts. The award rejected their US$15 billion claim against Telecom Italia, which related to allegations they were deceived and coerced into settling a shareholder dispute more than a decade earlier.
Perben, who was justice minister under President Jacques Chirac, joined the firm in early 2017. Filhol joined a year later, bringing 11 years’ experience at White & Case, where her cases included a multibillion-dollar dispute over a Finnish nuclear power plant.
Partner Thierry Tomasi left the firm in October to join the Paris office of Herbert Smith Freehills.
Betto also helped organise the first international arbitration boutiques meeting in Paris which hosted some 30 lawyers from 21 boutiques in 14 countries.
The firm continues to be involved in human rights pro bono work, supporting the publication of a report on conditions in Bangladesh and taking part in the Nuit des Relais, a charity race that combats violence against women.
In-house counsel for Saipem says the firm’s performance has been “excellent” on an ICC case in Paris, where it is instructed jointly with another firm. Julien Fouret is a “distinguished gentleman and a great lawyer. He is particularly focused on the relationship with the client and always available even for a quick advice.”
A client in Dubai says the firm is “very efficient and knows perfectly the rules and practices of arbitration. On top of that they do not impose their view but listen to the client and suggest after.”