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GAR 100 - 13th Edition

GST

15 April 2020

The Miami-based boutique scored a pair of defence wins for Venezuela and has been helping Pakistan challenge a multibillion-dollar award

Pending cases as counsel 19
Value of pending counsel work US$23.2 billion
Treaty cases 8
Third-party funded cases 0
Current arbitrator appointments 20 (13 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 3

GST was set up in 2009, when Florida-based lawyer Quinn Smith joined forces with Brazilian practitioner Mauricio Gomm Santos – then a consultant at US firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and law professor at the University of Miami.

Starting life as Smith International Legal Services, the firm wanted to carve a niche as an adviser to Brazilian individuals and businesses expanding internationally, as well as US companies doing business in Latin America. Its early work saw it involved in an ICC dispute and litigation between the United States’ Bechtel and a Brazilian state power company.

The practice really began to take off in 2012 with the arrival of Diego Gosis, an Argentine lawyer who has acted as external counsel to his government in more than 20 investment arbitrations since 2006. Gosis also sits as arbitrator.

In 2013, Gomm Santos became a full partner of the firm, leading to a rebrand as Gomm & Smith. An additional partner came on board in 2016 – Ignacio Torterola, the Argentine government’s former ICSID liaison officer. That hire led to the firm’s latest rebrand as GST, also giving it a presence in Washington, DC for the first time.

Torterola spent nine years at Argentina’s treasury attorney general’s office defending the state against investment treaty claims, and has also worked at Foley Hoag and Brown Rudnick.

Smith, who lectures on arbitration at a Brazilian university, holds roles in various young practitioners’ groups at the ICDR and ICC, while Gomm Santos is a founding member and former director of the Brazilian Arbitration Committee and sits on its advisory council.

GST used to collaborate with Argentine firm Guglielmino & Asociados on certain investor-state matters but the two firms have now parted ways.

Network

In addition to its Miami office, the boutique has addresses in London and Washington, DC.

Who uses it?

Pakistan, Venezuela and Bolivia have instructed the firm on a number of treaty and commercial matters. Governments often bring the firm in at a late stage in cases that haven’t been going their way. In one ICSID matter, Bolivia retained it as replacement counsel only five weeks before the final hearing.

Other engagements have come from a sovereign instrumentality of Argentina, several Brazilian manufacturers and families, and an investment bank in Africa. A South American state-owned bank instructed the firm to assist in recouping US$60 million in funds stolen by a bank official. It’s also acted for US investors in a US court challenge to a DR-CAFTA award in favour of Costa Rica.

Track record

In their former roles advising the Argentine government, Gosis and Torterola had a hand in some landmark wins at ICSID, including the annulment of awards against the state in the Vivendi IEnron and CMS cases.

More recently, Gosis has helped to obtain some spectacular results for Venezuela at ICSID in collaboration with Guglielmino & Asociados. The team defeated a billion-dollar claim by subsidiaries of a US bottlemaker, with the tribunal ruling for the first time that claims filed after Venezuela’s denunciation of the ICSID Convention are inadmissible.

The same team helped to knock out a US$400 million claim relating to a hotel and cable car investment – with the tribunal concluding that the claimant was not a protected investor because as a trustee it did not own the disputed assets.

Even where the state client has been on the losing side, the team has succeeded in significantly reducing the size of the damages. Its defence of Venezuela in a US$150 million claim over a Caribbean island airport led to a final award against the state worth US$34 million. GST also helped the state knock out two-thirds of a US$370 million claim brought by US shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls and resist enforcement of the award in the US.

For Bolivia, GST reduced a US$285 million ICSID claim by Chilean mining company Quiborax to an award of US$48 million. the firm also helped Bolivian state mining entity Empresa Siderúrgica del Mutún overturn a US$22.5 million award in favour of India’s Jindal Steel in the Bolivian courts in 2015.

Recent events

GST secured a pair of big wins for Venezuela – knocking out two separate UNCITRAL claims on jurisdictional grounds.

One was brought by Spanish businessman Luis García Armas and members of his family over the alleged expropriation of their food distribution business. The firm continues to represent the state in a parallel ICSID case brought by other members of the García Armas family.

In the other, GST – which was brought in just five months before the hearing – helped Venezuela defeat a US$185 million claim brought by a subsidiary of US cleaning products group Clorox. The firm worked with García & Morris Abogados on that case.

GST has also been advising Venezuela in ICSID annulment proceedings, as the state seeks to overturn a US$409 million award won by companies controlled by prominent US businessmen Charles and David Koch; two awards in favour of Luxembourg-based steelmaker Tenaris; and an award in favour of a coffee producer.

The firm is representing Venezuela in various US court actions commenced by arbitral creditors, including US bottlemaker Owens-Illinois and Canadian mining company Crystallex.

GST also continues to act in numerous proceedings for Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, including a new US$100 million ICC claim it has launched against the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica over the expropriation of shares in a refinery.

The firm is helping Pakistan seek annulment of a US$5.9 billion ICSID award that was handed down in 2019. The firm was brought in to replace counsel Allen & Overy shortly after the state had been declared liable for refusing a mining lease application.

GST was also assisting Pakistan in its attempts to annul an ICSID award in favour of a Turkish power company on grounds that the claimant’s investment was tainted by corruption. In 2019, Pakistan’s prime minister announced a settlement that would see the state avoid paying any part of the award, which was worth roughly US$1 billion.

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