The public international law boutique achieved the rare feat of getting an intra-EU BIT award upheld by a European court – as its founding partner took silk
|People in Who's Who Legal||1|
|Pending cases as counsel||8|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$6 billion+|
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Stephen Fietta (now QC) set up this firm in 2015 after almost five years with Volterra Fietta, the boutique he co-founded with Robert Volterra. The pair had worked together for more than a decade at Latham & Watkins and Herbert Smith Freehills before setting up their own shop in 2011 devoted exclusively to public international law and international arbitration.
Fietta’s new outfit has a similar focus, encompassing investment treaty arbitration, environmental and boundary disputes at the state-to-state level, and human rights. He has advised on cases at the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights and has co-authored a practitioner’s guide to maritime boundary delimitation.
Among Fietta’s team are former members of Volterra Fietta including recently promoted partner Jiries Saadeh (who has worked as a legal officer at the United Nations); and counsel Ashique Rahman.
Who uses it?
In 2017, Stephen Fietta was added to the UK Attorney General’s prestigious Public International Law “A Panel” – the list of preferred counsel to the UK government.
Less than a year after it opened, Fietta was also one of 12 law firms shortlisted by India to provide external counsel in investor-state disputes.
Members of the firm have advised states including Nigeria, Malaysia, Barbados, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Croatia.
They have also advised investors such as Koch Industries; bottlemaker Owens-Illinois; Vigotop (a company co-owned by US businessman Ronald Lauder); and British-Iraqi national Ali Allawi and his company Progas.
It is acting for a group of more than 600 Greek depositors and bondholders in an ICSID claim against Cyprus arising from the state’s 2013 financial bailout. It is also advising US private equity firm Schooner Capital in a dispute with Poland.
The firm’s first major win came in 2017 when it helped Central European private equity firm Abris secure a €176 million SCC award against Poland in an investment treaty claim arising from the forced sale of a bank. The Svea Court of Appeal upheld the award in 2019, ruling that Poland had left it too late to raise objections based on the incompatibility of intra-EU BITs with EU law.
Members of the team were involved in some significant wins while at Volterra Fietta – including securing a US$455 million ICSID award against Venezuela on behalf of US bottlemaker Owens-Illinois; and helping Malaysia prevail in a politically sensitive arbitration with Singapore concerning a billion-dollar land development charge.
Stephen Fietta’s career highlights at his former firms include obtaining an award for the operator of the Channel Tunnel against the UK and France; and winning ICSID awards against Jordan and Georgia. He has also helped Croatia defeat an €80 million investment treaty claim by an Austrian casino operator; and advised Colombia in a dispute with Ecuador at the International Court of Justice over aerial herbicide spraying.
In 2018, the firm won an undisclosed sum for a group of Dutch investors against Ukraine in an ICSID claim concerning the siphoning of their investments in a local bank.
It also helped Finnish businessman Mohamed Bahgat’s investment treaty claim against Egypt clear the jurisdictional stage in late 2017. Bahgat is seeking more than US$150 million over the expropriation of his iron ore and steel production concession, as well as moral damages for his wrongful imprisonment.
A new mandate came from Jordanian TV and film producer Talal Al Awamleh and media companies Arab Telemedia Services and Ain Telemedia Studios for an ICSID claim against Qatar. The case concerns the alleged theft of their productions in the country – including “Medinah”, which has been described as the first Arab sci-fi TV series.
US energy company Big Sky turned to the firm for an ICSID claim against Kazakhstan over the expropriation of an oil field (replacing Jones Day). Fietta successfully challenged Kazakhstan’s appointee to the tribunal, Rolf Knieper on the basis of his ties with Kazakh judges whose decisions are at issue in the arbitration.
Saadeh became the first to be promoted to the partnership since the firm was founded while Rahman was promoted to counsel. Stephen Fietta took silk in 2019, joining a growing list of solicitor-advocate QCs specialising in arbitration.
The firm also launched a scholarship in partnership with Oxford University to facilitate postgraduate study of public international law. The scholarship is in memory of James Upcher, a consultant at the firm who died in an accident in 2017.
Pawel Gierynski of Abris Capital praises Fietta’s “high professionalism and commitment to bringing the case to successful conclusion”. He adds that the firm’s lawyers distinguished themselves by their “willingness to explain the case and the arbitration process to us, the client, giving us comfort of taking decisions in full understanding of underlying circumstances”.
Aiman Odeh of Jordanian law firm Bakr & Odeh highlights the firm’s “deep knowledge of public international law, dedication to clients and meticulousness”. Fietta and Saadeh are described as “highly skilled lawyers with vast experience.”
Bill Cruft of Innsworth Litigation Funding says that Ashique Rahman “understands key issues for third-party funders in complex investment treaty claims and is able to turn around high quality work-product very swiftly”.