Eduardo Zuleta continues to sit as arbitrator on high-profile investor-state cases
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Eduardo Zuleta established this firm in Bogotá at the start of 2017 after eight years leading the international arbitration practice at Gómez-Pinzón Zuleta (previously the only Colombian firm to feature in the GAR 100). He broke away with a team to found a new shop focused on international dispute resolution, human rights, infrastructure, oil and gas and investment protection.
Zuleta cut his teeth at Baker & McKenzie in Bogotá in the 1990s, acting for Merck Sharp & Dohme in some early cases that generated important local court precedents for arbitration. These days, he’s one of the country’s most in-demand arbitrators on the international stage, as well as a vice president of the ICC Court and a member of the LCIA Court and governing board of ICCA.
He was added to ICSID’s panel of arbitrators in 2011 and has sat on investment treaty cases against Bolivia, Greece, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru. Zuleta chaired the tribunal that recently handed down a US$9 billion ICSID award in favour of ConocoPhillips against Venezuela, and he is presiding over a US$12 billion claim against Russia brought by former Putin adviser Sergei Pugachev. He’s also listed as an arbitrator at SIAC, the HKIAC and several Latin American institutions.
As a former co-chair of the International Bar Association’s arbitration committee, Zuleta has also had a hand in drafting the IBA’s 2012 guidelines on conflicts of interest and 2013 guidelines on party representation in international arbitration. The Colombian government also appointed him to an expert committee that drafted a new arbitration statute enacted in 2012.
Three senior figures have joined him as partners at the new firm: Rafael Bernal, who spent nearly 20 years as director of the Arbitration Centre of the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce, the country’s main arbitral institution; Gustavo Suárez-Camacho, who has worked for various oil companies and helped the National Hydrocarbons Agency to draft its model exploration and production agreement; and Antonio Aljure, who serves as a co-justice on Colombia’s Council of State and previously sat on the Constitutional Court. All three sit as arbitrators.
The team includes three former senior associates at Gómez-Pinzón who followed Zuleta to his new firm: Rafael Rincón, who joined as partner; and María Angélica Burgos and Estefanía Ponce-Durán, who were later promoted to the partnership. They have acted in investor-state and commercial arbitrations and have experience at firms including Latham & Watkins and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. Burgos worked in Colombia’s ministry of trade where she helped to negotiate investment treaties and free trade agreements, while Ponce-Durán is admitted to the Paris and New York bars.
The firm’s members do a mix of counsel and arbitrator work, unhampered by the conflicts of interest of a full-service firm.
Who uses it?
Construction clients include Spanish multinationals Ferrovial and Obrascón Huarte Lain, US-based Drummond Company and the Colombian Cementos Argos. Energy companies that use the firm include Hocol Petroleum, Isagen, Fortune 1000 company Superior Energy Services and Colombia’s state-owned petroleum company Ecopetrol.
Other Colombian clients are car company GM Colmotores and conglomerate Grupo Argos. It has also acted for Uber, US drink producer Tampico Beverages and French pharmaceuticals company Servier SAS.
An early highlight for the firm came as it obtained recognition for a Chile-seated ICC award in the Colombian Supreme Court. The firm successfully argued that alleged conflicts of interest in international arbitrations should be scrutinised under international standards, such as the IBA guidelines.
Another win came in an ICC arbitration between its US client and a Colombian company concerning the alleged breach of a licence agreement. The firm secured the dismissal of the claims and the tribunal ordered the Colombian party to pay damages.
Zuleta Abogados reports securing a favourable award in a New York-seated ICC arbitration involving a multinational oil and gas company.
The firm also settled a Swiss Chambers' Arbitration Institution case for a Colombian client against a German multinational.
Pending counsel work includes representing a multinational mining company in a Bogotá-seated ICC arbitration worth over US$150 million concerning the transport of coal; and a Colombian oil and gas company in a dispute over a contract for the transportation of oil.
It also reports acting for a state-owned company in a dispute with a multinational energy company concerning a shareholders’ agreement.
As arbitrator, Zuleta chaired an UNCITRAL tribunal that found Bolivia liable for expropriating a silver mining concession that had been the subject of violent protests from indigenous communities. The tribunal awarded US$18 million in damages, significantly less than the US$385 million the claimant had sought.
Zuleta was re-appointed as a vice-president of the ICC Court of Arbitration for the 2018-2021 term.
The firm continues to work pro bono for Colombian NGOs and government entities on the implementation of the new Special Justice for Peace project related to the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla group.