GAR 100 - 14th Edition

Homburger

Homburger

Professional notice

A year of Swiss court success and settlements

People in Who's Who Legal5
People in Future Leaders1
Pending cases as counsel20
Value of pending counsel workUS$6 billion
Treaty cases as counsel3
Third-party funded cases3
Current arbitrator appointments21 (10 as chair or sole)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator6

Founded in 1957, Homburger was once the Zurich arm of Baker & McKenzie, breaking away to become an independent firm in 1991. The modern arbitration group emerged seven years later from a reorganisation overseen by partners Markus Wirth and Thomas Müller. Wirth, a former president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA), is now special counsel at the firm, while Müller retired in 2014.

Partner Felix Dasser (the current ASA president) led the disputes practice from 2010 to 2017, when Balz Gross took over. The arbitration practice is headed by Mariella Orelli, who had been with the firm since 2007.

Partner Gabrielle Nater-Bass, former president of the Arbitration Court of the Swiss Chambers’ Arbitration Institution (SCAI), is an in-demand arbitrator. Other names to know include Roman Richers and Claudio Bazzani.

The firm is also home to senior counsel Georg Naegeli, a former partner at the firm who was once a state court judge and specialises in restructuring and insolvency.

Though present only in Zurich, the team comprises lawyers from civil and common law backgrounds, including some US-qualified lawyers. Like many firms in Switzerland – a country that encompasses German, French and Italian culture, and recognises four national languages – it regards itself as especially prepared to argue cases in all Swiss national languages and, of course, in English, as well as offering a multicultural approach to cases.

Who uses it?

While the firm is unable to disclose many of its clients, it can tell us that it represents an “overwhelming majority” of the companies listed on the premium segment of the Swiss Stock Exchange.

These are known to include Swiss household names Kraft Foods, Nestlé, Novartis, Roche and Alpiq (formerly Altel), as well as international names such as Sony Ericsson, Vivendi, Sky, Andritz Oy, Generali, Takeda and Malaysian Airline System Berhad.

In recent years, the firm has reported an increase in telecoms and pharmaceuticals clients.

It has also acted for governments in the Middle East such as Jordan, and for the Palestinian Authority’s investment fund.

Track record 

One of the firm’s biggest recent successes was helping to defeat a US$1.6 billion claim brought against the Palestinian Investment Fund under a partnership agreement with a Liechtenstein company. The defence required an analysis of the past 25 years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 11 days of hearings and 40 witnesses presented. Orelli led the team.

In 2015, a team headed by Balz Gross helped a Jordanian state-owned investment fund to defeat a US$130 million LCIA claim by a company owned by Qatari investor Ali Alyafei – persuading a sole arbitrator that a purported deal to acquire a stake in a bank relied on a forged signature.

Homburger ensured that award was upheld in the Swiss courts in the following year, and helped Jordan secure the discontinuance of related treaty claims worth US$500 million that Alyafei had brought.

As part of a group of law firms, Homburger achieved remarkable results in the Megafon proceedings concerning ownership of a Russian telecoms company. The team turned the arbitration around by producing evidence of money laundering and corruption in Russia. It overturned an unfavourable award in what was the first successful revision of an award before the Swiss Federal Tribunal on such grounds, before winning the main dispute.

Other highlights include a win for Swiss power utility Alpiq against Italy’s Enel in a dispute over long-term electricity supply contracts. It has also helped Alpiq win €43 million in a VIAC claim against Polish energy group PGE.

The firm had success in the Swiss courts defeating a challenge brought by two Egyptian state entities against a US$288 million ICC award in favour of East Mediterranean Gas. The award – which related to the termination of a deal to supply gas from Egypt to Israel – also required the state entities to pay US$1.7 billion to an Israeli company, which retained different counsel.

Recent events

Homburger secured Swiss-registered miner Georgian Copper a US$18 million award in a Swiss Chambers arbitration against Glencore and successfully defended it in the Swiss Supreme Court. The court had twice overturned previous awards issued by the same tribunal.

The firm had another court success for an affiliate of Korea’s STX Heavy Industries. It won a partial set aside of an award in which an ICC tribunal had upheld jurisdiction over the client, which was not a party to the underlying contract.

Client Alpiq settled a Swiss Chambers arbitration with French industrial group Bouygues arising from the sale of an engineering services business. The firm helped Alpiq to reach an agreement to refund Bouygues €50 million under a price adjustment mechanism – €244 million less than the French company had sought.

Alpiq continues to use the firm in ICSID annulment proceedings where the company hopes to revive a US$450 million Energy Charter Treaty claim against Romania. The firm acted in the underlying arbitration and has now been joined by co-counsel Shearman & Sterling.

Another settlement came for Italian insurer Generali Group, which ended its four-year Swiss Chambers arbitration with Brazil’s BTG Pactual over the latter’s purchase of Swiss bank BSI, which was caught up in the 1MDB scandal. The parties agreed to terminate the arbitration without admitting any wrongdoing or culpability, while Generali agreed to pay BTG Pactual US$269 million.

Homburger is acting for Guernsey chemicals company Dadco in a dispute over bauxite shipping rights in Guinea. Dadco is part of a joint venture including the Guinean government and Rio Tinto, and is in dispute with 13 local communities in the area around the mine. 

The firm continues to act for the Palestinian Investment Fund in a separate arbitration that is part of the same dispute (referenced above) with the Liechtenstein company, with the fund now acting as claimant.

Dasser continues to act for Swiss real estate investor Pawlowski AG in an ICSID claim against the Czech Republic.

The firm promoted a new partner, Stefanie Pfisterer.

Client comment

Mark Forsyth, CEO of Zurich consultancy Cliveden Trading, has used Homburger, and Nater Bass in particular, for many years. “We have been very happy,” he says. “They work well as a team and support each other – this has been critical during the covid-19 period.”

Homburger is a full service Swiss business law firm. Since 1957, Homburger has been advising and representing companies, entrepreneurs, boards and executives in transactions as well as in complex cases, both domestically and globally. The firm, including its dispute resolution practice, is top-ranked and has worked with clients from all around the world.

Homburger's dispute resolution team consists of more than 50 specialists. The arbitration team has extensive experience representing clients in the field of international commercial and investment arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution expecially in complex and/or high value matters. Our lawyers are highly qualified and have experience in multiple jurisdictions; they bring a wealth of know-how, practical experience and language skills with them, enabling Homburger to offer first rate, actionable legal advice from the moment a dispute arises to its final resolution and beyond.

We regulary represent clients in commercial arbitration proceedings, whether ad hoc or under institutional rules (DIS, ICC, LCIA, NAI, Swiss Rules, UNCITRAL, VIAC etc.) and in investment arbitration proceedings (administered by ICSID or other centers and based on BITs or other multinational instruments, including the Energy Charter). We also regularly represent clients in parallel or related Swiss state court proceedings, including interim relief, enforcement and challenge proceedings, or related criminal proceedings. In addition to advising and representing clients in arbitration and other ADR matters, several members of Homburger's arbitration team act also as arbitrators and / or mediators or appear before arbitral tribunals as legal experts.

Website: www.homburger.ch/en

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