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GAR 100 - 4th Edition

Curtis Mallet-Prevost Colt & Mosle LLP

18 February 2011

This US firm’s policy of only representing sovereigns in investment treaty arbitration is paying off. The inevitable adversary if your client claims to have suffered an expropriation in Venezuela’s Orinoco belt, Curtis Mallet-Prevost is also actively defending claims against the governments of Algeria, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

People in Who’s Who:
Pending cases as counsel:
Value of pending counsel work:
US$70 billion
Treaty cases:
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

According to the firm’s chair and figurehead for investment treaty work, George Kahale III, it is simply not feasible for a single arbitration group to represent both claimants and states in similar proceedings because of the recurring legal issues. He suggests that governments are beginning to share that view, explaining the growing number of state instructions heading the group’s way – and its need to keep expanding.

In part, the firm’s state instructions are also a natural outgrowth of its long-standing practice of representing states and state entities in international transactions and litigation (its clients include Venezuela’s state oil company - PDVSA, Mexico’s Pemex, National Oil Corporation of Libya, Kazakhstan’s KazMunayGas and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company).

George Kahale is Curtis’ arbitration lynchpin, along with Peter Wolrich who is head of the arbitration practice in Paris. Wolrich is the long-serving chair of the ICC arbitration commission.

Clients and big wins

At time of writing the firm is acting for the Chávez administration in some 13 pending cases at ICSID, fighting expropriation claims by ConocoPhillips, Mobil Corporation, and other energy, cement and mining investors. Some of the same nationalisations have also spawned commercial arbitrations under joint venture agreements – such as Mobil Cerro Negro’s multibillion-dollar ICC claim against PDVSA. Curtis Mallet’s opponents in these matters include Covington & Burling, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, King & Spalding, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.

Although the cases remain in progress, Venezuela has already enjoyed a measure of success in some. In 2008, Curtis Mallet put an end to a US$12 billion worldwide freezing order granted by the London High Court in support of Mobil Cerro Negro’s ICC claim. More recently the firm persuaded arbitrators to exclude some of the $10billion claim brought against Venezuela by ExxonMobil under the Netherlands-Venezuela bilateral investment treaty.

In another ICSID case, the firm first defeated Mexican cement producer Cemex’s request for provisional measures and then secured a ruling that the ambiguous article 22 of Venezuela’s Investment Law does not provide a general consent to arbitration at ICSID. It is thought that the ruling may lead to the dismissal of other claims against Venezuela in which article 22 is the sole basis for jurisdiction. A swift settlement of Cemex is now anticipated.

A claim against Venezuela brought by Swiss cement producer Holcim settled last September.

Curtis-Mallet’s Paris office meanwhile has achieved some noteworthy rulings in Caratube International Oil Company v Kazakhstan – a case that reveals astonishing insights into feuding within the Kazakh presidential family. Those include defeating Caratube’s motion in a US federal court to compel discovery in the arbitration under section 1782 of the United States Code.

Having settled a dispute over the Kashagan oilfields, the firm is now also defending UNCITRAL claims brought against Kazakhstan and national oil company KazMunayGas in relation to the Karachaganak project in the northwest of the country. An Energy Charter Treaty claim brought by Moldovan oil and gas company Ascom under Stockholm Chamber of Commerce rules completes its current arbitration work for Kazakhstan.

Finally, the firm is understood to be acting on two ICSID claims against Turkmenistan, and one against Algeria – as well as advising Algerian oil company Sonatrach in a battle with Texan oil company Anadarko and Denmark’s Maersk under UNCITRAL rules.


The firm has recently opened offices in Almaty and Astana in Kazakhstan and Ashgebat in Turkmenistan. It is rumoured to be exploring possibilities in Baku, Azerbaijan. There is also a major regional outpost in Istanbul – staffed by international arbitration players Ali Gursel and Jennifer Morrison.

In Latin America, the firm has a small but noteworthy office in Mexico City that is known for representing state entities, arbitration and oil and gas work. It has also just extended its three-year-old alliance with Argentine firm Fernandez Quiroga Ayarragaray & Ocampo, meaning that it could have an office in Buenos Aires by the end of 2011.

Recent events

The group has added 12 lawyers since 2009, meaning that it is now more than 50 strong. Some of those hires are from the ranks of ICSID counsel, including Gabriela Alvarez-Avila in Mexico City and Claudia Frutos-Peterson in Washington, DC.



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