GIR 100 2019

Schellenberg Wittmer

Schellenberg Wittmer

Professional notice

Schellenberg Wittmer may be a Swiss firm but it works on corporate crime cases from all over the world.

The firm

Following the merger of Schellenberg & Haissly and Brunschwig Wittmer back in 2000, Schellenberg Wittmer has developed into one of Switzerland’s largest business law firms, boasting over 140 lawyers based in Zurich and Geneva. It also has an office in Singapore.

The white-collar practice has been around since Schellenberg Wittmer’s inception, having been developed by partners Vincent Jeanneret and the head of the firm’s white-collar and compliance practice in Geneva, Paul Gully-Hart.

Schellenberg Wittmer prides itself for being one of the first large Swiss firms to maintain a team of specialised criminal defence lawyers. When it launched the practice, it was the first large firm to have its own in-house criminal defence team at a time when white-collar work was typically handled by smaller boutiques.

Schellenberg Wittmer made a foray into investigations work in the late 2000s, when the firm set up its corporate investigations group. Benjamin Borsodi, co-head of the firm’s internal corporate investigations practice, originally joined the Geneva office in 2002. Over the past two years he has done investigations work related to Guatemala, Brazil, Italy and Israel.

Peter Burckhardt, a former state prosecutor in Berne, leads the dispute resolution group, as well as the white-collar crime and internal corporate investigations teams in Zurich.

Borsodi, Gully-Hart, Burckhardt and Jeanneret are among seven of the firm’s attorneys listed in Who’s Who Legal: Investigations. All four of them are also listed on Who’s Who Legal: Business Crime Defence, as is a fifth Schellenberg Wittmer lawyer (Roland Ryser).

The firm expanded its investigations practice in 2016 with the addition of Louis Burrus from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, where he had been part of the team advising world football’s embattled governing body Fifa.

Clara Poglia was included in GIR’s 100 Women in Investigations in 2018 and promoted to the partnership in January 2019. George Ayoub was also promoted to partner at the same time.

Recent events

The firm continues to act for Swiss bank Credit Suisse in various matters. A former employee of the bank, Patrice Lescaudron, was accused of diverting assets from the accounts of the former Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. The criminal proceedings in Geneva lasted two years. The court confirmed that Credit Suisse was a plaintiff and so entitled to the entirety of the US$130 million in damages. Lescaudron has appealed the case following his five-year prison sentence.

Schellenberg Wittmer is also working for the bank in the so-called “Israeli Desk Investigation”, conducting its internal investigations over alleged fraud. Proceedings have been brought by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, the US Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York State Department of Financial Services over allegations that Credit Suisse helped US citizens living in Israel or with Israeli citizenship to evade taxes.

The firm also represented commodities trader Gunvor Group, which in October 2019 resolved an investigation into allegations of corruption, where Gunvor agreed to pay the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) close to 94 million Swiss francs for failing to stop an employee from paying off officials to secure oil supplies in the Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast between 2008 and 2011.

Schellenberg Wittmer also represents the Czech Republic in a case in which the state is an injured party regarding allegations of fraud during the privatisation of a state-owned company at the end of the 1990s. This is part of an investigation by Swiss prosecutors into alleged fraud with the privatisation of the coal mining industry in North Bohemia.

Network

The firm is based between Zurich and Geneva, and has an affiliate office in Singapore where it advises local clients on doing business in Switzerland.

Clients

The firm represents Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht as well as UBS and Credit Suisse, two of Switzerland’s largest banks. It also acts for car manufacturer Volkswagen.

Track record

The firm acted as lead counsel to Credit Suisse in an offshore tax evasion investigation launched by US authorities in 2011. The case resulted in settlements in 2014 where Credit Suisse agreed to pay $3 billion to authorities and to be overseen by several monitors.

The firm assisted EFG bank in its participation in the 2013 Swiss bank programme, which allowed certain Swiss banks to pay a fine and enter into a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) to resolve allegations that they helped US citizens evade tax. The firm conducted an internal investigation for the bank and negotiated proceedings for the 2015 US$30 million NPA with the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The firm also represented the bank in Swiss proceedings brought by the bank’s clients who objected to the disclosures made by the bank to the DOJ. 

The firm represented Odebrecht and Braskem when they faced prosecution from the Swiss Office of the Attorney General. The company faced a massive criminal investigation, and in 2016 reached a landmark trilateral agreement with Swiss, Brazilian and US authorities concerning bribery charges. In December 2016, the companies entered into a combined settlement, agreeing to pay at least US$3.5 billion to authorities in the US, Brazil and Switzerland.

GIR has previously reported that Schellenberg Wittmer has represented senior individuals in the investigation by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York into corruption at Fifa.

Schellenberg Wittmer is your leading Swiss business law firm with more than 150 lawyers in Zurich and Geneva, and an office in Singapore. We take care of all your legal needs – transactions, advisory, disputes.

  • Experts in more than 17 distinct practice areas and 14 sectors and industries.
  • Collaboration with 300 law firms worldwide in more than 50 jurisdictions.

Internal Corporate Investigations:

Practice Group:

Schellenberg Wittmer’s Internal Corporate Investigations Group features multilingual lawyers versed in both civil law and common law traditions. Our cross-divisional approach enables us to respond quickly and efficiently to the most resource-intensive demands. Schellenberg Wittmer has the technical expertise and infrastructure to process large-scale document reviews on its own IT platform completely securely.

Expertise:

Schellenberg Wittmer has extensive experience in the investigation of a broad range of legal and regulatory matters, including:

  • Bribery and corruption
  • Fraud and violation of tax laws
  • Violation of banking and capital market rules
  • Disclosure and accounting issues
  • Competition and antitrust
  • Executive misconduct

We also act regularly on behalf of regulators and other law enforcement authorities.

Strong teams in dispute resolution, white collar crime and antitrust form the foundation of our practice, which is supported by other practice areas such as corporate, banking and finance, capital markets and tax. A tailor-made team is assembled for each issue, comprising partners, associates and junior lawyers from the relevant practice areas.

Experience:

  • Counsel to two major Brazilian conglomerates Odebrecht and Braskem in AML proceedings opened by the Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland in the context of the multibillion-dollar Petrobras corruption scandal. This is a landmark case, one of the first and largest corporate criminal liability cases ever settled in Switzerland, reached in close coordination with resolutions in Brazil and the US.
  • Representation of a high ranking association official in proceedings conducted by FIFA and authorities in the US and Switzerland.
  • Lead counsel to one of the world's largest independent commodities trading houses by turnover - Gunvor Group in a 7-year criminal investigation for corruption offoreign officials. We acted on behalf of Gunvor in the negotiated plea deal that led to a CHF 94 mio conviction, the third ever largest imposed in Switzerland for corporate criminal liability.
  • Lead Swiss counsel to Credit Suisse in offshore tax evasion investigation launched by US authorities in 2011, and in the subsequent settlement reached between the bank and the US government.
  • Lead Swiss counsel to EFG Bank in its compliance under the US DOJ offshore voluntary disclosure programme for Swiss banks. Schellenberg Wittmer advised the client on the full spectrum of legal issues involved, including internal investigation and representation of EFG Bank before the US DOJ and in various related Swiss court proceedings.

Main Areas of Practice: 

  • Banking & Finance
  • Capital Markets
  • Competition and Antitrust
  • Corporate and Commercial
  • Dispute Resolution & International Arbitration
  • Employment
  • Intellectual Property & IT
  • Internal Corporate Investigations
  • Mergers & Acquisitions, Private Equity & Venture Capital
  • Private Clients & Estates
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Restructuring & Insolvency
  • Taxation
  • White-Collar Crime & Compliance

International Reach:

We have amassed extensive cross-border experience, regularly piloting and participating in major international projects. We are able to set up and coordinate international teams of legal advisors to handle complex matters with a minimum of delay.

While remaining independent, we build on our long-term experience and relationships with leading law firms around the globe, cooperating with over 300 foreign law firms from more than 50 jurisdictions to forge solid international relationships.

Our new Regional Desks were set up to develop our existing cross-border business initiatives, centralize case-work across these regions, and underpin Schellenberg Wittmer's commitment to the provision of top-tier, full business law services to clients on a global level.

Flexible solutions supervised by a leading law firm

FlexLaw, a subsidiary of the leading Swiss business law firm Schellenberg Wittmer, offers efficient and flexible legal support services in areas that are generally both resource-intensive and cost-sensitive, such as large-scale document reviews, e-discovery, contract management and judicial filings.

FlexLaw is staffed with Swiss trained lawyers and other professionals with a legal background, who are either employed on a permanent basis or recruited specifically according to the needs of a particular project. To ensure top-quality services, all FlexLaw professionals are selected, trained and supervised by Schellenberg Wittmer.

Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd
Löwenstrasse 19
P.O. Box 2201
8021 Zurich
Switzerland

T+41 44 215 5252
F+41 44 215 5200

www.swlegal.ch

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