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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Dechert

05 April 2018

Won awards totalling €331 million for Taiwan and helped Ecuador settle a long-running feud with ConocoPhillips

People in Who’s Who Legal 6
People in Future Leaders 6
Pending cases as counsel 69
Value of pending counsel work US$94 billion
Treaty cases 18
Current arbitrator appointments
39 (of which 26 are 
as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator  7

Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the New York firm whose Paris office served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, Rusty Park, Julian Lew QC and Laurie Craig, to name but a few).

When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005 (after the aforementioned names had long since left), six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert, joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer. Their arrival was followed by a steady rise up the rankings in Paris and more broadly. Several of the team are well regarded as academics and sit as arbitrators.

Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the past few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Moscow and Washington, DC.

The Moscow office opened in 2009, with a four-strong arbitration team from Salans. In 2011, it bolstered its Asia profile by hiring another Coudert alumnus, Jingzhou Tao, who joined in Beijing as head of Asia arbitration. In the same year, the DC office recruited Alvaro Galindo, the former director of international arbitration matters at Ecuador’s attorney general’s office.

For a long time, the practice was co-headed by Mayer and Silva Romero. Mayer left the firm in 2015 to set up as an independent arbitrator, but the group filled the gap swiftly with the lateral hire of a team from Weil Gotshal & Manges, including Arif Hyder Ali, who became the new group co-head and brought substantial investment arbitration experience.

Silva Romero is a French-Colombian national and former deputy secretary general of the ICC Court, as well as a co-chair of the International Bar Association’s arbitration committee. He has spearheaded Dechert’s busy Latin American casework – the Paris office is home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish-speaking disputes lawyers in the city.

Network

The arbitration practice is mostly concentrated in Paris, London, Singapore, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington, DC, with more recent additions including Dubai, Almaty and Tbilisi. The firm’s New York office also has a strong reputation for litigation and enforcement work.

Who uses it?

Governments and government-backed entities are frequent clients. Taiwan and its navy retained it for a high-profile ICC case against French defence contractor Thales over allegations of kickbacks, while Spanish shipbuilder Navantia used it in a submarine dispute. Other clients include Hungary’s MOL and China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

The team has a good reputation among Latin American governments. Ecuador has used it on some weighty investment treaty cases and has engaged it to deal with disputes arising from the appropriation of the country’s cultural heritage. Bolivia has instructed it on various treaty cases, and it’s more recently been defending Colombia. State entities in the Dominican Republic and Paraguay have used it too.

Away from that region, Georgia, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah are clients.

Dechert also advises ExxonMobil, France Télécom, GE, Microsoft, NML Capital, Orange, Amazon, Honeywell, Total, London-listed Green Dragon Gas and Brazilian sugar cane investor Adriano Ometto.

Track record

One of the firm’s biggest recent triumphs was helping Hungarian oil and gas company MOL defeat a billion-dollar UNCITRAL claim by Croatia that involved allegations of corruption against the Balkan state’s former prime minister. The tribunal rejected the claims entirely in 2016; a parallel ICSID claim continues. Arif Ali’s old firm Weil Gotshal is co-counselling on the case.

Dechert achieved a spectacular result for Ecuador in 2015 when it persuaded an ICSID annulment committee to shave some US$700 million off an award in favour of Occidental Petroleum – the largest amount ever annulled at ICSID. Ecuador reached a final settlement with the US oil company in 2016, agreeing to pay US$980 million.

The Thales case made the headlines in 2010 when Dechert’s client won €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling).

Dechert helped Bolivia settle an expropriation claim by a Dutch unit of Telecom Italia for US$100 million – about 10% of what the investor had asked for. Around the same time, the firm helped the state settle a treaty claim at The Hague brought by a German-Peruvian oil consortium for US$16 million – around half of what the claimants wanted.

Recent events

The firm had wins for Taiwan in two further ICC cases. In the first, it secured a €227 million award against Thales and two other French aerospace companies, Dassault and Safran, in a dispute over alleged improper commissions on the sale of Mirage fighter jets 25 years before. In the second case, Taiwan won a €104 million award against an Airbus subsidiary over a 1990s deal for the sale of missiles.

Dechert helped Ecuador settle a nine-year dispute with ConocoPhillips over the expropriation of two oil blocks. The state agreed to pay US$337 million to satisfy an ICSID award Conoco had initially claimed as much as US$1.5 billion in the arbitration, in which Ecuador partly prevailed on a rare counterclaim relating to environmental pollution in the Amazon.

The firm continues to act for Ecuador in a related ICSID claim brought by Conoco’s partner in the oil blocks, Bahamian entity Perenco – where the state has also lodged an environ­mental counterclaim.

For Bolivia, it won an unconditional stay of enforcement of a US$48.6 million ICSID award against the state pending the outcome of annulment proceedings. Bolivia is also using it to defend a treaty claim by Glencore over the nationalisation of a tin and zinc mine.

Teaming up with Weil Gotshal & Manges, Dechert helped the Czech Republic defeat a US$90 million claim by a British investor in an energy equipment supplier. It continues to represent the state in two other matters.

It helped a fund owned by the Dominican Republic obtain a US$30 million damages award in an ICC dispute with its private partner in an electricity generation company.

A group of Italian and Spanish investors retained it for the first-ever ICSID claim against Kuwait, relating to a major road construction project in Kuwait City.

It is acting for two Colombian transport investors in a new ICSID claim against Chile.

The firm defended Italian arbitrator Marco Lacchini in US and UK litigation relating to allegations that he was bribed to determine the outcome of a €3 billion insurance dispute he was arbitrating. The US action against him was thrown out while the English lawsuit was withdrawn.

The Beijing office welcomed partner Nicholas Song and four others from Vinson & Elkins. Partner Michelle Bradfield joined from Dentons. In Brussels, Erica Stein was promoted to national partner. Dubai partner Thomas Geuther left for Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle.

DC-based international counsel Alvaro Galindo became an alternate member of the ICC court for Ecuador. A senior associate in Paris, Hafez Virjee, took the lead in setting up Delos, a new arbitral institution aimed at resolving disputes for start-up companies.

Client comment

Pal Kara from MOL says Ali’s team is “outstanding, very focused, very client-oriented and client-friendly”. Besides praising the dedication of the team, he says Ali has “impressive strategic thinking and consideration for all the details”.

Dot Registry, which used the firm for a top-level domain name dispute with a Californian internet regulator, says Ali’s team did “an outstanding job”, calling them “brilliant lawyers ... [who] have left no stone unturned in our case”.

Adriana Vargas Saldarriaga from the Colombian ministry of trade said the government has been extremely pleased with the “quality and quickness” of the firm’s work. Silva Romero is a “problem-solver” who has mastery of his subject, she says.

A representative from Ecuador’s attorney general’s office says the state has worked with Dechert on multiple cases and has an “excellent relationship” with the firm. She says the group has “young and talented lawyers” with foreign-language skills, and important knowledge of international law, commercial arbitration and cross-examination techniques.

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