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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Volterra Fietta

18 February 2016

Now five years old, the PIL-focused firm has seen a record win and a shock departure

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 18
Value of pending counsel work: US$6.5 billion+
Treaty cases: 14
Current arbitrator appointments: 5 (of which 0 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 1

Robert Volterra and Stephen Fietta broke away from Latham & Watkins in 2011 to set up this London-based firm dedicated to public international law and international arbitration. Five years on, the firm’s partnership and caseload have swelled, despite the unexpected departure of Fietta at the end of 2015 to set up his own firm focused on the same area. Volterra Fietta’s name remains unchanged following its co-founder’s exit.

Volterra, a Canadian who cut his teeth working with Jan Paulsson in Paris and then later at Herbert Smith, has counsel experience in a variety of PIL forums. He has acted for states including Bahrain, Barbados, Chile and Eritrea in territorial and maritime boundary disputes before the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The firm added new partners for the first time in 2013, recruiting investment arbitration and trade law specialist Patricio Grané Labat, a Costa Rican-Argentine national, from Arnold & Porter; and Graham Coop, a former general counsel of the Energy Charter Secretariat. Another addition in 2015 was Christophe Bondy, a former senior counsel at Canada’s Trade Law Bureau who led his home government’s defence in a number of NAFTA claims.

A rising star within the practice is Giorgio Mandelli, who joined as counsel from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in 2014 and was promoted to the partnership in the following year.

Who uses it?

The firm’s state clients include Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Barbados is also using it in a treaty case brought by a Canadian investor in the eco-tourism industry.

But as far as investor-state work goes, it’s more often seen acting for claimants, sometimes with third-party funders involved. It’s acted for the US’s Koch Industries and bottlemaker Owens-Illinois in expropriation claims against Venezuela; a company linked to US businessman Ronald Lauder in a claim against Hungary; and for other investors in cases against Georgia and Turkey.

Elsewhere, the firm has acted for EDF, Bechtel, INA, OMV and Greywolf.

Track record

In 2015, the firm achieved its most remarkable result to date, winning an award worth US$455 million (with interest) for a Dutch unit of Owens-Illinois in a treaty claim against Venezuela over the expropriation of its interests in two bottle-manufacturing plants. It is thought to be the fourth-largest ICSID award on record (if one discounts a US$746 million ICSID additional facility award that Canadian miner Gold Reserve won against Venezuela in 2014).

Volterra Fietta is now defending the bottlemaker’s award in annulment proceedings. A parallel ICSID claim brought on behalf of Owens-Illinois’ Venezuelan subsidiaries over the same assets has yet to see a final award.

Another great result was for Malaysia in a sensitive state-to-state dispute with Singapore worth around US$1 billion. A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in 2014 that Malaysia did not have to pay development charges on Singaporean land formerly occupied by Malayan Railways. Herbert Smith Freehills and James Crawford SC also advised Malaysia on the case.

Alongside Eversheds, Volterra Fietta also helped Colombia settle a five-year dispute with Ecuador on the eve of hearings at the ICJ in 2013. The case concerned Colombia’s spraying of aerial herbicide at the border to target coca plantations.

While at Latham, Volterra was part of a team that helped Ukraine to defeat an ICSID claim by German technology group GEA in 2011 (in a much-discussed award, a tribunal ruled that neither an ICC arbitral award nor a settlement agreement could qualify as an “investment”).

Recent events

As mentioned already, Stephen Fietta announced his departure in late 2015 to set up his own firm, Fietta, dedicated to public international law and arbitration. He continues to co-counsel with his former firm on certain cases – notably a new ICSID claim against Cyprus lodged by 676 Greek depositors and bondholders affected by the country’s 2013 financial bailout.

Suzanne Spears also joined as counsel, having previously spent eight years at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in London, where she’d worked with Gary Born. Spears also brings experience in business and human rights law.

Away from arbitration, the firm helped the US government prevail on sovereign immunity arguments before a UK employment tribunal.

Client comment

Mary Beth Wilkinson at Owens Illinois says: “From the beginning, Volterra Fietta has been strategic, careful, fair in billing, hard working, and dedicated to serving us well. [I] never would recommend them to a foe. Only to a friend if there would be no conflict in continuing to represent us. We have re-hired them for a new matter.”

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