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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Baker Botts

05 April 2019

Settled a US$2 billion dispute for a US oil company over an investment in Angola and picked up a new instruction from a major Russian telecoms group for an ICSID claim against Turkmenistan

People in Who's Who Legal 4
People inFuture Leaders 1
Pending cases as counsel 35
Value of pending counsel work US$20 billion
Treaty cases 4
Current arbitrator appointments 3 (3 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 1

Traditionally pre-eminent in oil and gas, the Houston firm has been involved in overseas disputes for many decades. One of the firm’s partners served as an umpire on post-First World War mixed claims commissions. Baker Botts launched a dedicated international arbitration practice group in 2001 and since then has appeared regularly on major international disputes, including a case against Yemen that was the most valuable ICC matter of its day.

More recently, Russia asked it to be the strategic coordinator for all Yukos-related arbitrations and enforcement proceedings – including the Energy Charter Treaty claim by the bankrupt oil company’s majority shareholders that resulted in a record-breaking US$50 billion award against the state in 2014.

Since 2010, the group has been co-chaired by Jay Alexander in London and Michael Goldberg in Houston and New York. Other names to know include Ryan Bull in New York and Philip Punwar in Dubai.

The London office is also home to two partners active in investment treaty work: former ICSID senior counsel Alejandro Escobar; and Johannes Koepp.

Network

The most important office for the international arbitration group is London, which fields partners with civil and common law backgrounds. But there are also personnel in Dubai, Houston, New York, and Washington, DC. The wider firm has offices in 14 cities, including Beijing, Brussels and Hong Kong.

Who uses it?

The firm’s work for Russia in the Yukos cases has been well documented. It also acts for Russian state oil and gas companies Rosneft and Gazprom and a number of leading financial institutions in that country (including VTB Capital).

Other energy clients include ExxonMobil, Cobalt International Energy, Chevron, Total and Hunt Oil. The firm has also represented Rio Tinto, PT Bumi Resources, Kia Motors Corporation, chemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, China’s Huawei Technologies and South Korea’s Samsung.

State clients for investment treaty matters include Ecuador and Costa Rica.

Track record

The firm helped a national oil company defeat a US$6.5 billion claim under the Swiss Rules, after proving that the underlying contracts had been back-dated and forged.

It also helped a major Asian telecoms client defeat a US$4 billion ICDR claim arising from allegations of faulty equipment and network design.

In the ICC case against Yemen mentioned above, the firm helped its clients Hunt Oil and ExxonMobil to win costs, some damages and, most importantly, the dismissal of an US$8 billion counterclaim.

On the defence side, Baker Botts helped Costa Rica defeat a US$75 million ICSID claim in 2017 brought by Mexico’s Grupo Zeta over alleged price-fixing in the liquefied petroleum gas market. The state was awarded part of its costs.

Going further back, the firm helped Ecuador defeat a US$55 million investment treaty claim brought by an affiliate of US hedge fund manager Elliott Associates in 2012. The state won a costs award that was successfully enforced.

The firm also obtained a good result for Russia in one of the Yukos cases, an SCC claim brought by a group of Spanish investment funds that had a minority stake in the oil company. The funds won a final award of just US$2 million but the firm persuaded the Swedish courts to annul the award on jurisdictional grounds.

Baker Botts has also won US$200 million for Kia Motors in a dispute over a joint venture in Brazil; and fended off a US$95 million claim in an arbitration over a heavy oil project in Latin America.

It touts expertise in fast-track arbitrations: for instance, in a dispute in which it won a US$100 million award for a French-Saudi Arabian client 120 days after filing a claim.

Recent events

The firm helped US company Cobalt International Energy settle a pair of ICC arbitrations worth a combined US$2 billion against Angola’s national oil and gas company Sonangol in 2018.  The settlement, which was approved by a US bankruptcy court, saw Sonangol pay US$500 million to acquire Cobalt’s interest in two offshore blocks.

Russian telecoms company Mobile TeleSystems instructed the firm in 2018 to advise on a US$750 million ICSID claim against Turkmenistan over the alleged expropriation of its business in the country. 

A UAE-based investment authority, RAKIA, also instructed the firm for a BIT claim against India over a cancelled contract for the supply of bauxite aluminium for use in the construction of a refinery. The claimant seeks either the promised bauxite or US$50 million in damages.

It continues to represent Samsung in one of the first ICSID claims against Saudi Arabia, concerning a project to build a power and desalination plant on the Red Sea coast. The state recently failed in a bid to have the Baker Botts team disqualified as counsel in the case.

Baker Botts continues to defend Ecuador against an investment treaty claim by a Spanish tuna fishing company over the imposition of taxes in a free trade zone. Hearings were held in February 2018 and an award is expected soon.

Ecuador also retained Baker Botts to defend against the enforcement of a US$25 million treaty award in favour of Canadian mining company Copper Mesa in the US courts – before the parties agreed a settlement in July 2018.

Rosneft subsidiary Tyumenneftegaz has retained the firm to defend it against a Texan oil company’s efforts to enforce a US$200 million SCC award against it in the US courts.

It is also acting for Texan oil and gas consultancy IEVM as it asks a US court to set aside an ICDR arbitrator’s finding that it waived its right to bring an arbitration relating to a counterparty’s purchase of US$775 million in assets from BP in Pakistan.

The London office welcomed partner Poupak Anjomshoaa, an English-qualified barrister, in early 2019. It also promoted Jordanian-British national Dorine Farah to the partnership.

There were also some departures. Partner Phillip Georgiou and special counsel Sonny Payne in Hong Kong left the firm in late 2017 to set up their own disputes boutique, GPS McQuhae. Dubai-based partner Jonathan Sutcliffe left to join KL Gates.

In Moscow, head of Russian disputes Vasily Kuznetsov and fellow partner Ivan Marisin (who had both joined in 2016 from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan) left to set up their own firm Kuznetsov Marisin & Partners.

Client comment

Mariano Gomezperalta of aircraft finance provider Robert Wray worked with Baker Botts on an enforcement matter against Belize and had nothing but good things to say. The Baker Botts team “distinguished itself for its effectiveness and focus” and “did an excellent job at explaining the key points”, he said.

A biopharma client that used the firm says it was impressed with the “extremely professional and competent” Baker Botts team, particularly partner Johannes Koepp, who became an expert in the scientific aspects of the diseases at the heart of the dispute. “In Johannes I felt that I had a true partner, who could speak to me knowledgeably and efficiently about all aspects of my business.”

Insight

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