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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Pérez Alati Grondona Benites Arntsen & Martínez de Hoz

18 February 2016

Acts against Argentina at ICSID, but also advising state-controlled oil and gas operator YP

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 6
Value of pending counsel work: US$4.2 billion
Treaty cases: 2

One of Argentina’s largest law firms, Pérez Alati was among the first in the country to gain experience in investment treaty work: in the late 1990s, it defended its home government in the first Vivendi water concession case (one of the few ICSID cases against Argentina that don’t relate to its 2001–2002 financial crisis).

Since that crisis, the firm is more commonly seen acting against its home government. It has become one of the first ports of call for aggrieved investors in the areas of oil and gas, power, reinsurance and sovereign debt. The firm often works alongside international firms such as King & Spalding, White & Case and Jones Day.

The practice revolves around José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz Jr, who is also known as an energy lawyer. He is a member of the ICC Court and sits as an arbitrator. Partner Guillermo Quiñoa focuses on commercial arbitration.

Who uses it?

It serves a number of international energy companies for both investment and commercial matters, with big names including BP, ExxonMobil, Occidental, Pan American Energy, CMS Energy, Repsol, Sinopec, Total and Endesa.

Chevron has also turned to the firm in connection with its efforts to resist global enforcement of a US$9 billion Ecuadorean court judgment relating to environmental pollution in the Amazon.

The firm has also been acting for Argentine state-controlled oil company YPF in a US$1.6 billion ICC dispute over natural gas exports to Brazil, as well as in related court proceedings.

Track record

The firm’s ICSID wins are impressive. Along with King & Spalding, Pérez Alati helped the United States’ El Paso Corporation secure a US$43 million ICSID award against Argentina in 2011, and defeated the state’s attempt to have the award annulled in 2014.

The same firms also paired up to help ExxonMobil win a decision on jurisdiction and liability in an ICSID claim against Argentina in 2013. A decision on quantum is expected in 2016.

In another matter, this time as co-counsel with White & Case, the firm helped 60,000 Italian holders of defaulted Argentine sovereign debt win a ground-breaking jurisdictional victory: a majority tribunal ruled in 2011 that their billion-dollar ICSID claim could proceed. It has been described as the first “mass claim” in the centre’s history, and has sparked controversy because of what some see as its potentially disruptive effect on future sovereign debt restructurings.

In 2013, Pérez Alati also obtained a favourable ICC award on behalf of Sinopec against an international contractor.

Recent events

Jimena Vega Olmos and Tomás Lanardonne were promoted to the partnership, while Francisco Amallo was named special counsel.

On the work front, the firm achieved a significant result for YPF in December 2015 when it persuaded a Buenos Aires court of appeal to overturn an award holding the state-controlled entity liable for terminating contracts for the export of natural gas to Brazil. But that’s unlikely to mean an end to the billion-dollar dispute, as a Uruguayan court has already ruled that challenges to the award can only be heard at the seat of arbitration in Montevideo.

Client comment

In-house Endesa lawyer José María Fesser tells GAR: “Pérez Alati has a huge reputation in Argentina and their lawyers offer solid knowledge, especially about the Argentine energy sector, commercial law, regulation and labour law. They’ve had our confidence for many years.”Another client, Diego Alvarez-Blanco of Ultrapetrol Group, commends the group’s “excellence, level of detail and value for money”.

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