The Norwegian firm regularly acts for Ukraine’s Naftogaz in high-stakes cases
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Wikborg Rein was founded as a one-man shipping law firm in Oslo in 1923 by Erling Wikborg, later Norway’s foreign minister. The other name partner, Norwegian resistance fighter Alex Rein, joined after the end of the Second World War.
The initial focus on shipping expanded to cover energy, banking and other industries as the firm followed its Norwegian clients abroad. It opened an office in London in 1987, and set up outposts in Singapore and Shanghai in the early 2000s.
International arbitration has therefore been part of the fabric of the firm from the very beginning, with shipping disputes still a mainstay of the practice in the Bergen office.
A successful representation of a European buyer in a then-rare arbitration against a Norwegian oil and gas producer around 2006 led the Oslo office to pick up more energy work, later adding defence and telecoms sector clients to the mix.
In 2010, the London office recruited two experienced English disputes lawyers from City firms: Robert Jardine-Brown and Chris Grieveson. Two further partners with arbitration experience joined in London in 2016: Mike Stewart from K&L Gates (now with Gowling WLG) and Nick Shepherd from Ince & Co. The firm reckons it is the only Norwegian firm with a significant English law capability.
Other names to know include Trond Eilertsen and Ola Haugen in Oslo, and Øystein Meland in Bergen, who all sit as arbitrators.
Recently the practice has expanded into the upstream gas market, handling disputes between producers in Norway and abroad. It has gained added recognition thanks to its work for Ukraine’s national gas company Naftogaz in a monumental set of cases against Gazprom, which media reports have valued at more than US$125 billion (see below).
Oslo and London are the most important offices for arbitration, but it also has boots on the ground in Bergen, Singapore and Shanghai.
Who uses it?
Besides Naftogaz, the firm has acted for Germany’s RWE in gas price matters. The London office has advised offshore contractors Kvaerner, Seajacks, Synergy, Bassoe and Prospector; shipowners Spar Shipping, Navig8 and Pareto; and mutual P&I insurance associations including Gard, Norwegian Hull Club, the London P&I Club, Britannia P&I, and the Standard Club.
It’s also acted for commodity traders Ronly and Bulk Trading. HNA Group, one of the largest privately owned conglomerates in China, has used it in more than 50 disputes since 2011, with a combined value of US$360 million.
The Oslo team has had some spectacular results for Naftogaz in SCC claims against Gazprom. In one case, it secured a downward price revision under a long-term gas supply agreement and defeated a US$56 billion counterclaim by Gazprom for breach of “take or pay” obligations. A second arbitration over a gas transit deal resulted in a net award worth US$2.56 billion in Naftogaz’s favour. After an enforcement battle that saw Naftogaz obtain attachments against its UK and Dutch assets, Gazprom agreed in 2019 to pay US$2.99 billion to satisfy the SCC award with interest. The parties also settled a further set of SCC cases in which Gazprom had sought termination of their agreements and Naftogaz had requested an US$11 billion transit tariff revision. The settlement cleared the way for the companies to agree on new transit arrangements for the next five years.
In 2014, the London office helped an energy contractor prevail in an expedited LCIA arbitration against an Italian oil company concerning a major offshore project in Kazakhstan. After a nine-day hearing, the client was awarded more than 80% of the US$112 million it had claimed.
The Oslo office won a gas price adjustment for a Czech affiliate of RWE against Russia’s Gazprom in 2013, in an ICC arbitration seated in Vienna. The award entailed a refund of more than €1 billion from Gazprom. The year before, the firm persuaded a different ICC panel to reduce the client’s “take or pay” obligations for gas purchased under the same contract.
The firm helped Naftogaz’s gas production subsidiary UkrGasVydobuvannya (UGV) settle a joint venture dispute with Sweden’s Misen Energy that had been playing out at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. UGV paid roughly US$50 million to settle the dispute, after prevailing on arguments that Misen’s share in the joint venture should be reduced from 50% to 24%.
It successfully acted for Brazil’s Enauta Energia in the final phase of its arbitration against Dommo Energia. The dispute related to Dommo’s loss of its participating interest in a Brazilian oilfield, and the subsequent transfer of the interest to Enauta and its remaining partner.
Wikborg Rein is co-counsel to an Indian industrial company in an ICC arbitration over the supply of machinery – advising the client on all Norwegian law-related aspects of the case.
It is acting for a Norwegian industrial company in an €75 million ICC arbitration, launched by a major international contractor, connected to the design and construction of a plant in Northern Europe.
Together with Clyde & Co, the firm is representing the purchaser of a mega yacht in a dispute relating to warranty issues with the builder. The claim is worth around US$40 million.
In Oslo, Jørgen Vangsnes joined the partnership after several years at the Office of the Attorney General of Norway.
One client who used Wikborg Rein in a dispute related to a long-term energy supply agreement says the firm is “uniquely experienced in this very specialised field” and that Dag Mjaaland and his team “continue to impress” with their dedication, responsiveness and desire to win.
Eirik Thomassen, head of legal in the project department at Kværner, has high praise for the firm’s work on a complex dispute that encompassed a vast number of technical and commercial issues. “It is their good balance between attention to the details and a holistic approach that distinguishes them from other arbitration teams,” he says.
A multinational energy company using Wikborg Rein in price review disputes says the firm “delivers first rate legal services, based on its wide experience and continuous involvement in other disputes and arbitrations in the energy sector.” Mjaaland “stands out and delivers a personal and timely service, while at the same time providing legally sound advice.”
Wikborg Rein is a leading Norwegian law firm, with a strong international presence. The company was established in 1923 and is now one of Norway’s largest and most international law firms with more than 200 lawyers. The firm’s offices are located in Oslo, Bergen, London, Singapore and Shanghai. Wikborg Rein represents more than 25 nationalities, with lawyers speaking a wide range of languages. The firm has an English law team as well as Chinese and Singaporean lawyers at its respective international offices.
Since the early 2000s, Wikborg Rein's international arbitration practice has expanded significantly driven by disputes within the international energy industry. In recent years, the international arbitration practice in Wikborg Rein's Oslo, Bergen and London offices have seen an increasing case load in the fields of energy, defence and telecommunications. The firm's appointment to represent Ukrainian Naftogaz in its Stockholm arbitration disputes with Gazprom confirms the strength of Wikborg Rein in international arbitration – Naftogaz won the dispute in December 2019.
Wikborg Rein assists a number of leading Norwegian and international clients within the industrial sector, banks and financial institutions, shipping and offshore, media and technology, energy, oil and gas, government departments and agencies, municipalities and public utilities.
For more information about our Dispute Resolution/International Arbitration practice, please contact:
Ola Ø. Nisja, Partner and Global Head of Disputes
Kaare Andreas Shetelig, Partner
Ola Haugen, Partner
Dag Mjaaland, Partner
Dronning Mauds gate 11, 0250 Oslo
PO Box 1513 Vika, 0117 Oslo
T: +47 22 82 75 00