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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Dechert

18 February 2016

* Excludes CIETAC and Beijing Arbitration Commission cases

Helped Ecuador to settle the long-running Oxy saga after a landmark annulment action

People in Who’s Who Legal 5
Pending cases as counsel 53
Value of pending counsel work US$73.1 billion
Treaty cases 10
Current arbitrator appointments 62 (of which 35 are
as sole or chair)*
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

Dechert’s international arbitration practice was born from the ashes of Coudert Brothers, the now-defunct New York firm that served as a training ground for many of today’s luminaries in the international arbitration community (Jan Paulsson, Rusty Park, Julian Lew QC and Laurie Craig, to name but a few).

When Coudert Brothers collapsed in 2005 (after the aforementioned names had long since left), six of its Paris team – including partners Eduardo Silva Romero, Philip Dunham and Xavier Nyssen – decamped to Dechert, joined a year later by another old Coudert colleague, Pierre Mayer. Their arrival was followed by a steady rise up the rankings in Paris and more broadly. Several of the team are well regarded as academics and sit as arbitrators.

Away from Paris, the practice has been expanding steadily in the past few years, making impressive lateral hires in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Moscow and Washington, DC.

The Moscow office opened in 2009, with a four-strong arbitration team from Salans. In 2011, it bolstered its Asia profile by hiring another Coudert alumnus, Jingzhou Tao, who joined in Beijing as head of Asia arbitration. In the same year, the DC office recruited Alvaro Galindo, the former director of international arbitration matters at Ecuador’s attorney general’s office.

For a long time, the practice was co-headed by Mayer and Silva Romero. Mayer left the firm in 2015 to set up as an independent arbitrator, but the group filled the gap swiftly with the lateral hire of a team from Weil Gotshal & Manges, including Arif Hyder Ali, who has been named the new group co-head and brings substantial investment arbitration experience.

Silva Romero is a French-Colombian national and former deputy secretary general of the ICC Court. He has spearheaded Dechert’s busy Latin American casework – the Paris office is home to one of the larger contingents of Spanish-speaking disputes lawyers in the city.

Network

The arbitration practice is mostly concentrated in Paris, London, Singapore, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing and Washington, DC, with more recent additions including Dubai, Almaty and Tbilisi. The firm’s New York office also has a strong reputation for litigation and enforcement work.

Who uses it?

States and state-owned entities, mostly. Taiwan’s government and navy retained the firm for a high-profile ICC claim against French defence contractor Thales involving allegations of kickbacks, as well as a related ICC claim against shipbuilder DCN International. Spanish shipbuilder Navantia also used it as co-counsel in a submarine dispute with another French contractor.

The team seems to have a good reputation among left-leaning Latin American governments. Ecuador has been using it on some weighty investment treaty cases, and has also engaged it to deal with disputes arising from the appropriation of the country’s cultural heritage. Bolivia has used it on various cases. Georgia and the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah are also clients.

On the investor side, the firm is now representing Hungarian oil and gas company MOL in a dispute with Croatia playing out in ICSID and UNCITRAL claims (Ali brought the case from his former firm).

Dechert also advises ExxonMobil, France Télécom, Total, London-listed Green Dragon Gas and Brazilian sugar cane investor Adriano Ometto. The New York office has been helping US hedge fund NML Capital in its long-running efforts to force Argentina to honour its defaulted sovereign debt obligations in the US courts.

Track record

The firm achieved a spectacular result for Ecuador in 2015, when it persuaded an ICSID annulment committee to shave some US$700 million off an award in favour of Occidental Petroleum – the largest amount ever annulled at ICSID. Occidental had originally won US$1.76 billion plus interest in compensation for an expropriated oil block, but the committee said this amount wrongly included a 40 per cent stake in the project that had been farmed out to a third party. Ecuador reached a final settlement with Occidental in early 2016, agreeing to pay US$980 million.

The Thales case made the headlines in 2010 when Dechert’s client won €630 million in damages for unauthorised commissions relating to the sale of six frigates to Taiwan in 1991 (Thales was advised by Shearman & Sterling). But Taiwan had less success in a follow-up claim against the French company that built the vessels, the formerly state-owned DCN. There, the firm’s client won just €3 million of the €45 million it sought.

Depending on your point of view, the firm also scored a victory for France Télécom in a complicated dispute with Orascom for control of Egyptian mobile network Mobinil. An ICC tribunal found in favour of France Télécom in 2009 and ordered Orascom to sell its stake in Mobinil (the sale didn’t happen in the end – the Egyptian government brokered a settlement under rather different terms: France Télécom paid Orascom US$300 million).

In 2015, Dechert’s client Bolivia settled a long-running ICSID case with Pan American Energy for the nationalisation of its stake in natural gas unit Chaco. The state agreed to pay US$357 million.

Dechert also helped Bolivia settle an expropriation claim by a Dutch unit of Telecom Italia for US$100 million – about 10 per cent of what the investor had asked for. Around the same time, the firm helped Bolivia settle a treaty claim at The Hague brought by a German-Peruvian oil consortium for US$16 million – around half of what the claimants wanted.

Recent events

Following Pierre Mayer’s departure, the firm welcomed partners Arif Hyder Ali and Alexandre de Gramont from Weil Gotshal & Manges in DC, with Ali assuming co-leadership of the practice alongside Silva Romero. Counsel Erica Franzetti, a Brazilian national, joined from Weil soon after.

Dechert also added Thomas Guether, a former protégé of the late Arthur Marriott QC, to their partnership in Dubai last May.

There were some good results for Ecuador in other cases besides Oxy. In August 2015, a tribunal hearing Anglo-French oil company Perenco’s claim against Ecuador issued an interim decision on the state’s US$2.5 billion environmental counterclaim. The tribunal said it was satisfied there was some contamination for which Perenco would likely be held liable, though it ruled in Perenco’s favour on some of the legal issues that may limit the state’s recovery.

Another unusual case saw Dechert helping an Ecuadorean port authority to win US$35 million in a claim against members of Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings (White & Case were on the other side).

Client comment

Pal Kara from MOL says Ali’s team is “outstanding, very focused, very client-oriented and client-friendly”. Besides praising the dedication of the team, he says Ali has “impressive strategic thinking and consideration for all the details.”

Another client, Dot Registry LLC, has used Ali’s team for a dispute over top-level domain extensions, and says they did “an outstanding job”. It calls them “brilliant lawyers… [who] have left no stone unturned in our case”.

A representative from Ecuador’s attorney general’s office says the state has worked with Dechert on eight cases and has an “excellent relationship” with the firm. She says the group has “young and talented lawyers” with foreign-language skills, and important knowledge of international law, commercial arbitration and cross-examination techniques.

Another state client says Dechert has done “a tremendous, impeccable job” of defending it in a pair of ICC cases, by providing constant contact and results-producing strategies, as well as offering a cost-effective service.

Similar praise comes from Per Skaug, chief executive officer at Norway’s Tiway Oil, which has used the firm in two arbitrations. “Due to superior preparations before the case, our team was able to pick the other team’s evidence to pieces,” he says of the pre-hearing work Dechert completed in one of the disputes.

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