Achieved epic results for ConocoPhillips against Venezuela, and for Chevron against Ecuador
|People in Who's Who Legal||8|
|People in Future Leaders||4|
|Pending cases as counsel||43|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$89.2 billion|
|Third-party funded cases||1|
|Current arbitrator appointments||27 (9 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||6|
Styling itself a “radical departure from Big Law”, Three Crowns caused a sensation upon its launch in 2014.
What made it so interesting? Two aspects. First: the boldness. There have been international arbitration “boutiques” before, but this was more of a mini-firm that opened simultaneously in three countries (the US, the UK and France).
Second: the people. The founders included the illustrious Jan Paulsson, plus Constantine Partasides QC and Georgios Petrochilos – two of Paulsson’s heirs-apparent in the mighty Freshfields arbitration practice (which Partasides had co-chaired).
Joining them was top talent from other shops: Todd Wetmore (who had played a big part in the recent success of Shearman & Sterling), Gaëtan Verhoosel (co-chair of international arbitration at Covington & Burling) and Luke Sobota (of Jones Day, where he was part of the team representing Chevron in its long-running battle with Ecuador).
The official line is that Three Crowns embodies a “vision”: namely, that it is individuals, not firms, who “win” arbitrations, as long as they have the “space” to focus on a case properly and that David can get the better of Goliath.
The practice has certainly had no trouble attracting more talent. In 2015, it recruited its first female partner, Carmen Martinez Lopez, who had worked with Verhoosel at Three Crowns. It made its first homegrown partner, Scott Vesel, the following year. In 2018, the firm recruited from Freshfields again, hiring partner Reza Mohtashami QC in London.
It’s also promoted homegrown talent, with younger partners at the firm including Scott Vesel in London and Kathryn Khamsi in Paris, both formerly at Shearman.
The firm now reckons it has over 50 arbitration specialists across its three offices. The results speak for themselves, with the firm saying it has been brought in to lead or replace other leading GAR 30 practices on major international arbitrations.
Three Crowns has offices in London, Paris and Washington, DC.
Who uses it?
The firm caters to repeat users of international arbitration who know the business well enough to forgo a big, established brand name. These include energy clients Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Naturgy, Occidental Petroleum, Perenco, Tullow Oil and the UAE’s Dana Gas and Crescent Petroleum. It is on BP’s list of niche law firm providers. Examples of construction clients include Areva and Sacyr.
It is defending Bahrain and Oman against investment treaty claims and acts for various governments in state-to-state matters.
Unquestionably the firm’s most remarkable victory to date has been for ConocoPhillips in a long-running ICSID case against Venezuela over the expropriation of three oil projects. Together with Freshfields, the firm secured a record-breaking US$8.7 billion award for the client in March 2019. The same firms had also paired to secure Conoco a US$2 billion ICC award against Venezuela’s national oil and gas company PDVSA in 2018, which the state entity agreed to settle after its operations in the Dutch Caribbean were targeted by attachments.
Three Crowns also helped Conoco to settle a long-running ICSID dispute with Ecuador relating to a 99% levy on windfall profits, with the state agreeing to pay US$337 million to satisfy an award.
Together with Debevoise & Plimpton, it helped Occidental defend an award against Ecuador in annulment proceedings before the state agreed to pay a US$980 million settlement. The firms are now advising Occidental in a follow-on dispute (see “Recent events”).
Another high point was acting for Dana and Crescent in one of the highest-value gas disputes in the Middle East, with claims valued at over US$39 billion. This saw Three Crowns secure LCIA awards worth more than US$2 billion against the Kurdistan regional government of Iraq in compensation for deliveries of petroleum products. The government agreed in 2017 to settle the dispute by paying the consortium US$1 billion and granting it new oil and gas exploration blocks.
It has won a US$40 million treaty award for a Greek industrial conglomerate against Serbia over a copper mining and smelting investment, along with costs. There has also been a settlement for Tullow Oil in a tax dispute with Uganda.
The firm helped a group of South African mining investors win a landmark award against Lesotho under a multilateral investment treaty signed by member states of the Southern African Development Community – albeit that the award was later set aside in the Singaporean courts.
Besides the tremendous results for Conoco detailed above, Three Crowns can also take a share of the credit for Chevron’s recent victory against Ecuador, alongside King & Spalding. A tribunal seated in The Hague ruled in 2018 that a US$9.5 billion Ecuadorean court judgment (which held the US oil company liable for environmental contamination in the Amazon) was a denial of justice, as there was overwhelming evidence it had been procured by fraud. Ecuador will thus have to make full reparation to Chevron for any injury resulting from enforcement of the Ecuadorean judgment in any jurisdiction.
Together with Shearman, the firm helped France’s Areva settle a €6 billion ICC case against Finnish utility TVO over the construction of a nuclear power plant in Finland. Areva agreed to pay €450 million to TVO for delays to the project, ending a 15-year dispute.
Three Crowns advised an oil consortium including Eni, Shell, Chevron and Russia’s Lukoil in a dispute with Kazakhstan over the Karachaganak field, with the parties reportedly reaching a provisional agreement that would see the state receive a US$1.1 billion payout and a larger share of profits from the venture.
The firm helped Singapore’s Puma Energy settle a treaty claim against Papua New Guinea relating to tax liability on crude oil production. Puma, a subsidiary of Trafigura, also used the firm in securing an emergency arbitration award against Benin.
There was a blow for a group of Greek clients pursuing a €1.05 billion ICSID claim against Cyprus concerning the takeover of their bank during the eurozone crisis. A tribunal dismissed the claim in 2018 and ordered the claimants to pay €5 million in costs.
Spanish energy company Naturgy (formerly Gas Natural) has instructed Three Crowns for a treaty claim against Colombia over €1.3 billion in defaulted electricity payments. The state has reportedly brought a US$500 million counterclaim in the case.
London-listed ContourGlobal, the operator of a power plant on one of Africa’s Great Lakes, has retained the firm to defend it against a contract claim brought at ICSID by a Rwandan state entity.
US hedge fund Elliott Management has chosen the firm for a US$770 million investment treaty claim against South Korea over the country’s alleged intervention in a US$8 billion merger between two Samsung affiliates.
It also emerged that Three Crowns has reunited with Debevoise to defend Occidental in an American Arbitration Association case concerning the allocation of proceeds from its US$980 million ICSID settlement with Ecuador. China’s Andes Petroleum launched the case, saying it was promised 40% of the payout. The dispute has been complicated by the intervention of Canada’s Encana, which says it is owed half of Andes’ purported share. Occidental recently failed in a bid for a restraining order to stop Encana from participating in the arbitration.
There were partner promotions in 2019 for Manish Aggarwal in London, Simon Elliot in Paris and Liz Snodgrass in Washington, DC.
Ben Jones was also promoted to counsel in DC. Counsel Lucy Martinez departed the firm to become an independent arbitrator.
The firm’s “cause-based” practice helped to secure the reunion of an Ethiopian marathon runner with his family in 2018. The athlete had to flee the country after being targeted and tortured by the Ethiopian government. Three Crowns helped him with a humanitarian parole application that allowed his family to join him in the US.
Paulsson and Petrochilos published a treatise on UNCITRAL arbitration in 2018.
Verhoosel was appointed co-chair of the IBA Arbitration Committee, while Partasides joined the governing board of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration and Todd Wetmore became a vice president of the ICC Court.
Manuel Garcia Cobaleda, general counsel at Naturgy, says he chose the firm “because it offered the personal dedication bigger law firms lack.” He singles out partners Carmen Martínez Lopez and Gaëtan Verhoosel, and counsel Agustin Sanz, for “their personal commitment to the case, delegating only accessory items to other lawyers.”
A former consultant to the attorney general of an Asian state had occasion to use Three Crowns for a state-to-state treaty dispute of “vital strategic importance” to the country. He said the firm was “proficient, knowledgeable and timely in their representation” and singled out Jan Paulsson and Luke Sobota as “first-class lawyers – but more than that, a pleasure to be around”.