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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Sáenz & Asociados

05 April 2019

The El Salvador firm has provided co-counsel to its government in two big cases

People in Who's Who Legal 1
Pending cases as counsel 5
Value of pending counsel work US$23 million
Current arbitrator appointments 4 (0 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 3

Saenz & Asociados’ arbitration practice was founded in 2000, around the time that the telecoms sector in its native El Salvador was undergoing privatisation. The firm quickly picked up an important case against dominant operator France Telecom under American Arbitration Association rules, which gained it international exposure and led to further instructions from communications sector clients.

Alongside the AAA, the firm has handled arbitrations under CIAC, ICSID and UNCITRAL rules as well as those of regional centres, and has acted as co-counsel in cases with Hogan Lovells, Holland & Knight, Clifford Chance, Chadbourne & Parke, Sherman & Sterling and Foley Hoag.

The key name to know is partner and firm vice president Humberto Sáenz Marinero, who has taken the lead on the Saenz & Asociados’ work for the government of El Salvador. Alongside partner Mario Enrique Sáenz, he is part of ICSID’s roster of arbitrators.

Network

The firm has a strong network across Central America, with offices in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica alongside its El Salvador HQ.

Who uses it?

Several Salvadorian government entities have retained the firm over the past decade, including those with responsibility for public works, healthcare and the prison system. It has also acted for Fomilenio, the Salvadorian entity in charge of the administration of foreign aid from the US.

Telecoms-related work continues to be one of the firm’s strong suits, and the local arm of telecoms operator Telefonica is one of its most regular non-state clients. Retailer Walmart has also turned to the firm for advice.

Track record

In 2016, the firm worked alongside Foley Hoag to help El Salvador beat a US$250 million ICSID claim brought by an Australian-owned company Pac Rim over the state’s refusal to grant gold-mining licences on environmental grounds. The government proceeded to freeze the assets of the company in pursuit of an US$8 million costs award, and went on to take the unprecedented step of banning metals mining nationwide.

Again alongside Foley Hoag, the firm acted for the state in proceedings brought by energy company Enel seeking US$800 million in compensation for allegedly frustrating its rights to a power project in El Salvador. Following negotiations at ICSID headquarters in Washington, DC, the parties reached a settlement in 2015.

Back in 2007, the firm persuaded the El Salvador courts to enforce a US$2 million award in favour of international hotel group Marriott against local outfit Hoteles y Desarrollos. The court proceedings, in which Sáenz Marinero acted as lead counsel to Marriott, was a watershed moment for arbitration in the country, marking the first time that an international arbitration award was enforced by the national courts.

Recent events

The firm says it has obtained two successful results for the El Salvador government in two commercial arbitrations under the Inter-American Commercial Arbitration Commission rules worth around US$25 million.

It is also representing an El Salvador-based insurance group in an ad hoc arbitration.

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