Defending Egypt, Lebanon and Croatia against treaty claims
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This Paris firm was founded by Jean-Denis Bredin and Robert Badinter in 1966, with a focus on civil and criminal disputes. When Badinter left in 1981, partner Jean-François Prat gave it a new focus, turning it into one of Paris’s premier M&A boutiques. It ventured early into investment arbitration: Bredin defended Egypt in the landmark Southern Pacific Properties case in the 1980s – the first ICSID claim brought under a domestic investment statute.
Jean-Denis Bredin, now 89, remains with the firm, but these days the firm’s core arbitration team is made up of partners Tim Portwood, Louis Christophe Delanoy, José María Pérez and Raëd Fathallah.
The team offers a blend of common and civil law experience – Portwood is one of the few senior Parisian lawyers to have begun at the English bar. Fathallah, who is Canadian-Lebanese, speaks fluent Arabic and has connections in the Middle East and the Gulf. Pérez is Ecuador’s alternate member of the ICC International Court of Arbitration.
Besides having offices in Paris and Brussels, Bredin Prat is part of a “best friends” network with five other GAR 100 firms: BonelliErede in Italy, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek in the Netherlands, Hengeler Mueller in Germany, Slaughter and May in the UK, and Uría Menéndez in Spain.
Who uses it?
The practice works for a combination of European blue-chips and foreign governments (often French-speaking). Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Croatia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are among the states that have used it. Private clients include Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal, the world’s largest aluminium producer; Italian engineering group Tecnimont; Greek construction group J&P-Avax; and South Korea’s LG Electronics.
A notable win was for Algerian state oil company Sonatrach in a gas-pricing dispute with Spain’s Gas Natural at the ICC. The Spanish company was ordered to pay over US$2 billion in withheld funds, pending renegotiation of a pricing clause. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was on the other side.
At ICSID, Bredin Prat has had four wins on behalf of Egypt. The most recent of these, in 2014, saw it defeat a US$36 million treaty claim on the basis that the claimant, an Egyptian gas company, was not under foreign control.
It defended the Democratic Republic of the Congo in multibillion-dollar ICSID and ICC claims brought by Canadian mining company First Quantum, which were settled in 2012.
On the investor side, Bredin Prat won an €8 million award against Romania for a US businessman and helped a Turkish construction company’s US$300 million ICSID claim against Turkmenistan clear the jurisdictional stage despite another panel’s contrary reading of the same treaty.
The firm helped Rusal obtain a favourable ICC award in a dispute over the privatisation of a mining complex, frustrating Guinea’s attempt to bring the mine back under state control. Rusal has also used the firm in a successful LCIA claim against Nigeria. Rusal later tapped the firm for an ICSID case against Ukraine relating to the seizure of a stake in an aluminium plant.
It helped Jordan settle an ICSID claim brought by French telecoms group Orange over the renewal of a 2G licence; the settlement allowed Orange to continue operating in the country until 2029. Orange paid around US$220 million to end the dispute – more or less what Jordanian regulators had demanded before the ICSID claim was filed.
Defending Egypt, the firm failed to prevent an UNCITRAL tribunal from accepting jurisdiction over a US$200 million treaty claim by businessman Mohamed Bahgat. The tribunal concluded that the claimant was Finnish at all relevant times and that it did not need to determine whether he also had Egyptian nationality – despite the state’s contention that the treaty bars claims by dual nationals.
The firm is also defending Egypt in a case brought by a Spanish investor in a cement production company.
Lebanon is using the firm in two ICSID cases. The first, under the Germany–Lebanon BIT, relates to the operation of a private jet company. The second is brought by Greek construction company J&P-Avax over a €360 million power plant construction project near Tripoli.
It is representing Croatia in two ICSID cases, relating to a biomass power plant project and a postal enterprise respectively.
On the commercial side, it defended a state-owned broadcasting company in a US$1.4 billion arbitration brought by 15 claimants regarding a sports rights transfer agreement covering the Middle East and North Africa. It also concluded a US$1 billon case brought on behalf of an Asian electronics company against a European counterpart over alleged copyright infringement. In another case, it acts for a French electronics company in an ICC claim arising out of a distribution agreement.
Uilliyam Spigelberger, in-house counsel at Rusal, says the firm is “very focused, business-like and effective” and always “highly responsive” even under stressful conditions. He also highlights their cost-effective fee structures. Portwood, Fathallah and associate Shane Daly in particular are skilled at “getting to the heart of the matter”.
Christine Guerrier, in-house counsel at Thales, says the whole team is “business-oriented” and “practical”, and that Delanoy in particular “always finds the time to answer a call”. They also charge “far less than an Anglo-Saxon law firm”, she observes.