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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Debevoise & Plimpton

Bringing a rare ICSID claim against Saudi Arabia

People in Who’s Who Legal 9
People in Future Leaders 5
Pending cases as counsel 117
Value of pending counsel work US$64 billion
Treaty cases 27
Current arbitrator appointments
10 (of which 7 are 
as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator  6

Eight years after Debevoise produced its widely praised “Protocol to Promote Efficiency in International Arbitration”, the firm continues to play a key role in shaping and improving the profession. It is well positioned to do so as home to thought leaders including David W Rivkin, the immediate past president of the International Bar Association; Donald Donovan, the president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration; and former UK attorney general Lord Goldsmith QC, who is a frequent spokesman for international arbitration.

The firm recently added another strong voice: Wendy Miles QC, the former head of international arbitration at Boies Schiller Flexner. In addition to having 15 years’ experience working at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, she is a vice president of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and vice chair of the IBA’s arbitration committee. She has been at the forefront of recent efforts to improve the representation of women on arbitral tribunals.

Younger partners include New York based Catherine Amirfar, who returned to the firm in 2016 after a two year stint as chief adviser on international disputes at the US Department of State.

The concentration of partners with leadership roles has led Michael Blair, Debevoise’s presiding partner, to call the international disputes practice “one of the jewels in the Debevoise crown.”

The Debevoise practice traces its roots to the late, great US arbitration specialist Robert von Mehren, who gained a famous win for Texaco in the TOPCO arbitration against Libya in the 1970s. He mentored the current practice leaders, Rivkin and Donovan, who have overseen the firm’s work in landmark cases such as Occidental v
Ecuador
.

Other names to know are Mark Friedman, Dietmar Prager, Natalie Reid and William Taft in New York; Christopher Tahbaz in Hong Kong and New York; Tony Dymond in London; and Antoine Kirry in Paris.

The past few years have seen an influx of prestigious and high-value work, not least acting for Russia in some of the “second wave” arbitrations arising from the collapse of the oil giant Yukos that are under way in The Hague.

That said, the firm is increasingly reaching out to clients with smaller matters (in the tens of millions, rather than hundreds of millions). The hourly rate may be high, but the firm promises the use of small teams to keep costs down. In accordance with its widely emulated efficiency protocol, it still aims to be the firm of choice for the smart buyer.

Network

Most of the arbitration team is based in New York with other key partners in London, Hong Kong and Paris. Debevoise also has offices in Frankfurt, Moscow, Shanghai, Tokyo and Washington, DC.

Who uses it?

Debevoise’s clients range from Nike and GE to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the United Nations. They include a high number of energy and mining companies. It is on Shell’s legal panel in the areas of arbitration and anti-corruption (several former Debevoise lawyers have worked at the oil company).

Tethyan Copper (a joint venture between Canada’s Barrick Gold and Antafogasta in Chile) is using the firm for an US$11 billion dispute in Pakistan. It has advised another Barrick venture in a dispute with the Dominican Republic.

It has also advised Hyundai Heavy Industries and Brazilian billionaire Abílio Diniz in commercial matters.

Investment treaty clients on the claimant side include oil companies Occidental Petroleum, Perenco, ExxonMobil and Murphy Oil; Delaware investment fund Gramercy; and former Leyton Orient football club owner Francesco Becchetti.

The firm’s government clients include South Korea, Israel and Mexico. Singapore used it in a sensitive public international law dispute with Malaysia. And, as mentioned, Russia has turned to it to defend treaty claims in relation to the collapse of Yukos, replacing Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.

Track record

Debevoise won an eye-popping US$2.3 billion ICSID award (with interest) for Occidental against Ecuador in 2012 – the largest known investment treaty award until the Yukos case. The damages were reduced by 40% in annulment proceedings before Ecuador settled the case with a US$980 million payout in 2016.

Another impressive victory was in a commercial case, when Debevoise secured US$750 million for Hyundai Heavy Industries in a battle for control of a refinery. That won GAR’s Win of the Year award in 2010.

Together with Allen & Overy, the firm helped to agree a US$82 million settlement with the government of Belize in 2015 to end a set of treaty claims relating to the nationalisation of a telecoms operator.

It secured a US$73 million award for the Man Group, one of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, in a dispute that entailed an ICC arbitration in São Paulo, discovery proceedings in New York and litigation in Brazil, Bermuda, Uruguay and elsewhere.

The firm achieved a landmark result for Francesco Becchetti and another Italian businessman by persuading an ICSID tribunal to grant provisional measures requiring Albania to suspend attempts to extradite the two men to face prosecution for money laundering and tax evasion. The men say the charges are politically motivated.

Recent news

The firm was retained by a French fashion client for a rare ICSID claim against Saudi Arabia over the alleged destruction of its retail business in the kingdom.

Debevoise helped Russia to collect payment of a US$1.7 million costs award against a Dutch entity after launching enforcement proceedings in London. The Dutch company – a successor to a former Yukos subsidiary – had been ordered to pay the costs after withdrawing a US$3.5 billion Energy Charter Treaty claim against the state in 2016.

Russia continues to use the firm in two multibillion-dollar ECT arbitrations brought by other Yukos affiliates that have already cleared the jurisdictional stage.

It persuaded an ICSID tribunal to uphold a finding of liability against Pakistan, finally allowing Tethyan’s US$11 billion claim to proceed to the damages phase. The state’s subsequent effort to dislodge one of the arbitrators was also defeated.

In the English courts, it helped Russian steel producer NLMK to stave off enforcement of a US$160 million award in favour of Russian billionaire Nikolai Maximov that was set aside at the seat of arbitration in Russia. The firm persuaded the English courts that the Russian set-aside decision was not manifestly wrong or perverse.

The firm helped Sanum Investments and Lao Holdings – two companies controlled by US businessman John Baldwin – win permission to revive a pair of treaty claims worth US$1 billion against Laos that were supposedly settled four years ago. But Debevoise has since withdrawn as counsel in the two treaty claims. Laos prevailed in a related SIAC arbitration.

In London the firm promoted Samantha Rowe to international counsel.

Debevoise continued its tradition of positive contributions to the practice of international arbitration, with a new protocol combatting the threat of cyberattacks in international arbitration. The protocol adopts the format of its 2010 protocol on efficiency, and is intended to help shape best practice.

Wendy Miles joined the newly established arbitrator council for the Atlanta Centre for International Arbitration and Mediation. Catherine Amirfar joined the SIAC court. David W Rivkin stepped down after the end of his term as vice chair of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.