A Ukrainian firm advising on big-ticket energy cases
|Pending cases as counsel||6|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$23.7 billion|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||7 (1 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||1|
Aequo was founded in Ukraine in 2014, the transformative year that saw the Euromaidan demonstrations and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The firm was set up by managing partner Denis Lysenko and a team of five partners who broke away from another Ukrainian firm, Vasil Kisil & Partners.
Five years on, the firm’s case work has been dominated by disputes between Ukrainian and Russian state interests, including some matters that spun out of the events of 2014. In the process, Aequo has gained a name as a reliable go-to firm, particularly in high-value oil and gas disputes with a Ukrainian-law angle.
The international arbitration group is led by recently promoted partner Pavlo Byelousov, and includes Lysenko and partner Oleksandr Mamunya.
Who uses it?
A major client for the group is Ukraine’s national oil and gas company Naftogaz and its subsidiaries, which have retained it on some very high-value matters with good results so far (see below). Other companies that have used it include Forbes, Samsung and Turkish construction group Guris.
Aequo is often retained for co-counsel and expert work by international firms, including Covington & Burling, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Three Crowns.
The group’s most prominent work to date has been for Naftogaz in a pair of Stockholm Chamber of Commerce arbitrations against Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom over long-term contracts for the supply and transit of gas. Naftogaz had suggested the amount in dispute in the two cases was at least US$80 billion.
The cases ended in February 2018 with an award requiring Gazprom to pay a net sum of nearly US$2.6 billion, which Naftogaz is now trying to enforce in various European jurisdictions. Aequo worked alongside Norwegian firm Wikborg Rein and Swedish firm Gernandt & Danielsson. Naftogaz has since retained the firms for a fresh set of SCC cases against Gazprom, also worth billions.
In 2016, Aequo also helped US magazine publisher Forbes win an ICDR claim against its Ukrainian licensee, prevailing on claims that censorship and interference with its editorial independence gave valid grounds to terminate a licence agreement for the Ukrainian edition of the magazine. It has also acted in proceedings to enforce the award in Ukrainian courts.
In further high-profile work for Naftogaz, the firm has been working with Covington & Burling on an investment treaty claim against Russia relating to the expropriation of assets in Crimea following the 2014 annexation of the territory. The client obtained an award on liability in early 2019 and is now pursuing a US$5 billion damages claim.
There were mixed results for Naftogaz subsidiary UkrGasVydobuvannya (UGV) in an SCC dispute with Sweden’s Misen Energy. Aequo and Wikborg Rein didn’t persuade the tribunal that the parties’ joint venture agreement was procured through collusion or corruption, though Misen’s allegations of breaches by UGV were also rejected. The tribunal held that the contract should be terminated because recent royalty hikes have made it unworkable, and ordered the parties to try to reach agreement on division of assets.
Pavlo Byelousov was promoted to partner at the start of 2019. The firm also added three new counsel to its ranks in the previous year, hiring Olena Pertsova and promoting Myroslava Savchuk and Yevgen Levitskyi.
Oleksandr Momot, CEO of Ukraine’s Fortex Energy, calls Aequo “the leading Ukrainian law firm” for arbitration and the energy market. He says Pavlo Byelousov is impressive, “always up to date on any energy industry development or problem in Ukraine” and “directly involved in each matter entrusted by me to the firm”.