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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Von Wobeser y Sierra

18 February 2016

Helped to settle a saga over a Pemex refinery upgrade

People in Who’s Who Legal: 1
Pending cases as counsel: 11
Value of pending counsel work: US$400 million
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 21 (of which 9 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 2

GAR’s sister guide to law firms in Latin America, Latin Lawyer 250, singles out Von Wobeser y Sierra’s arbitration practice as one of the best options in Mexico – thanks, largely, it says, to the impressive international profile of the firm’s founder, Claus von Wobeser.

It’s hard to disagree. On top of multiple bar association roles, von Wobeser is a former vice president of the ICC Court and is regularly seen arbitrating commercial and investor-state disputes. He has lately been on ICSID panels hearing claims against Spain, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, Poland and Romania. In addition, he has sat alone in a rare ICSID conciliation filed by Equatorial Guinea against CMS Energy Corporation.

The arbitration and litigation practice is headed by Marco Tulio Venegas, who has helped to build the team of around 12 lawyers versed in arbitration. Adrián Magallanes, who was promoted to partner in 2013, is considered a rising star. Another recruit, associate Victor Ruiz, used to work at the ICC Court and often sits as an arbitrator.

In 2014, the firm promoted Diego Sierra to partner. Sierra combines international arbitration work with an anti-corruption practice and is the son of one of the firm’s founding partners.

Who uses it?

Anheuser-Busch InBev used the firm (with Skadden Arps and Sullivan & Cromwell) in a substantial case brought by Mexico’s Grupo Modelo.

Construction companies, including Mexican market leader ICA and former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), are regular clients, and the firm also represents businesses in negotiations with state oil company Pemex or electricity utility CFE.

Track record

Anheuser-Busch won the arbitration with Grupo Modelo – prompting the boss to take the team on a night out. “When I received the award, I was compelled to find the arbitration team and celebrate,” von Wobeser says.

In another case – for a chemicals company in ICC proceedings brought by a competitor over an alleged breach of a purchase agreement – the team won its client full costs after the tribunal dismissed the claim (Hunton & Williams was co-counsel).

The firm also secured a win for its client ICA in a multimillion-dollar claim regarding the construction of a hydroelectric project. Following the win, ICA has instructed Von Wobeser y Sierra in a number of its most important arbitration cases.

Lawyers from the firm also act as expert witnesses on Mexican law in arbitrations and related litigation. Von Wobeser gave testimony in US court proceedings on behalf of KBR, which led to the successful confirmation of a US$465 million ICC award against Pemex in 2013. Von Wobeser was also an expert witness in the underlying arbitration.

Recent events

In 2015, the firm helped Siemens and South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction agree a settlement with Pemex to end a bitter dispute over a refinery upgrade. The state entity agreed to pay US$295 million. The dispute had given rise to a decade-long ICC arbitration and a final award potentially worth US$596 million, which Von Wobeser y Sierra helped to defend from constitutional and other challenges in the Mexican courts.

It also won a US$10 million award in an English-language ICDR arbitration between a Mexican manufacturer of phenolic resins and a US mineral company over a contract for the production of resin-coated sand.

The firm was recently instructed by British American Tobacco in a US$300 million dispute with Japan Tobacco International over a joint venture agreement.

Von Wobeser’s practice as an arbitrator continues to flourish – he sat on an ICSID tribunal that threw out a US$185 million claim against Poland brought by US investors in a bankrupted vegetable oil business.

He’s also president of an UNCITRAL tribunal at The Hague hearing a PCA dispute between Petrobas and Ecuador over two nationalised oil projects in the Amazon.

Client comment

Lee Huckstep, Houston-based assistant general counsel at KBR, says that he goes to the firm “again and again” for its “excellent work”, and that he has recommended Von Wobeser y Sierra to others.

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