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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Pérez Alati Grondona Benites Arntsen

04 April 2018

The Argentine firm lost a disputes team including name partner and arbitration head José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz Jr

One of Argentina’s largest law firms, Pérez Alati was among the first in the country to gain experience in investment treaty work: in the late 1990s, it defended the Argentine government in the first Vivendi water concession case (one of the few ICSID cases against Argentina that don’t relate to its 2001–2002 financial crisis).

Since that crisis, the firm is more commonly seen acting against its home government. It is one of the first ports of call for aggrieved investors in the areas of oil and gas, power, reinsurance and sovereign debt. The firm often works alongside international firms such as King & Spalding, White & Case, Jones Day and Vinson & Elkins.

The practice revolves around José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz Jr, who is a leading energy lawyer. He is a member of the ICC Court and sits as an arbitrator. Partner Guillermo Quiñoa focuses on commercial arbitration.

Who uses it?

The firm serves many international energy companies in both investment and commercial matters, including BP, ExxonMobil, Occidental, El Paso, Pan American Energy, CMS Energy, Repsol, BO, Sinopec, Total and Enel (formerly Endesa).

Chevron has also turned to the firm in connection with its efforts to resist global enforcement of a US$9.5 billion Ecuadorean court judgment holding the company liable for environmental pollution in the Amazon.

Despite a reputation for assisting investors against Argentina, it has also advised Argentine state oil and gas operator YPF in a billion-dollar dispute over gas exports.

Track record

The firm’s ICSID results are impressive. As co-counsel with White & Case, Pérez Alati represented 60,000 Italian investors in defaulted Argentine sovereign bonds in a groundbreaking US$2.5 billion investment treaty claim against Argentina – described as ICSID’s first “mass claim”.

The case cleared the jurisdictional stage in 2011, with a landmark decision holding that sovereign bonds do benefit from treaty protection even if acquired on the secondary market; and that additional consent from the state was not required to allow multiparty proceedings.

A new centre-right government in Argentina under President Mauricio Macri ultimately settled the case before it reached a final award – making a cash payment of US$1.35 billion to the claimants in 2016.

With Vinson & Elkins, the firm helped ExxonMobil obtain a US$220 million ICSID award against Argentina in 2016. The award is now subject to annulment proceedings.

Another successful ICSID case saw the firm pair up with King & Spalding to represent US energy company El Paso. The client obtained a US$73 million award against Argentina in 2011, which survived an annulment proceeding three years later. In 2016, the Macri government settled the award at a 25% discount with a pay-out of bonds to a Delaware entity that had acquired the rights to the award.  

Recent events

In December 2017, the firm helped YPF finally settle a long-running ICC dispute relating to the curtailment of gas exports to Brazil during the Argentine energy crisis of 2004. The state-owned entity paid US$114 million to local pipeline operator TGM to satisfy an ICC award worth nearly three times that much, having achieved a similar discount in a related settlement with US energy group AES a year earlier.

It was a positive outcome for YPF, which had originally faced claims of up to US$1.4 billion in the case. The settlements came after Pérez Alati persuaded an Argentine court to overturn the award, even though the arbitration was seated in neighbouring Uruguay.

The firm scored a victory for Chevron in October 2017 when it convinced a Buenos Aires court to deny enforcement of the US$9.5 billion “Lago Agrio” judgment. The Argentine court held that Chevron Corporation was not domiciled and had no assets in the country, making the case inadmissible. Related enforcement proceedings are pending in Canada and Brazil.

Client comment

In-house Enel (formerly Endesa) lawyer José María Fesser tells GAR: “Pérez Alati has a huge reputation in Argentina and their lawyers offer solid knowledge, especially about the Argentine energy sector, commercial law, regulation and labour law. They’ve had our confidence for many years.” Another client, Diego Alvarez-Blanco of Ultrapetrol Group, commends the group’s “excellence, level of detail and value for money”.

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