GIR 100 2021

Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd

Schellenberg Wittmer Ltd

Professional notice

Schellenberg Wittmer has established itself as a GIR 100 regular and had another stellar year, representing a commodities trader in a thorny Swiss privilege dispute as well as several large corporates in investigations matters.

The firm

Schellenberg Wittmer is one of Switzerland's largest business law firms and it made a foray into investigations in 2000. Of counsel Paul Gully-Hart in Geneva founded the firm's investigations practice and leads the white-collar crime and compliance group. The firm's investigations offering now features 18 lawyers including five partners and two of counsel.

Benjamin Borsodi, who has been at the firm for nearly 20 years, heads up the internal corporate investigations group while Peter Burckhardt, a former state prosecutor in Berne, leads the dispute resolution group as well as the white-collar crime and compliance and the internal corporate investigations teams.

The firm appointed partners Clara Poglia and Louis Burrus in Geneva as co-heads of the firm’s litigation practice in the city in January. Poglia was listed in GIR's 40 Under 40 survey in 2020 and co-founded the Swiss chapter of the Women White Collar Defense Association. Burrus, meanwhile, conducts internal investigations into corruption in the sports and commodity trading sectors.

Geneva-based partner George Ayoub, who handles asset recovery cases, is another name to know. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic, as well as French, German and English.

The firm is well-represented in Who's Who Legal. In total, seven of the firm's investigations partners are featured in the Investigations category: Borsodi, Burckhardt, Gully-Hart, Poglia, Burrus, Ayoub and Zurich-based counsel Roland Ryser. Seven of the firm's lawyers are listed in the Business Crime Defence category: Borsodi, Burckhardt, Gully-Hart, Ryser, Ayoub, Poglia and Geneva-based of counsel Vincent Jeanneret.

Recent events

The firm’s is a popular choice for many Geneva-based commodities trading companies in investigations and disputes.

One such company has turned to Borsodi for assistance in a thorny privilege dispute related to a foreign bribery probe by Swiss federal prosecutors, GIR has reported. The company unsuccessfully applied to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court to stop prosecutors from accessing emails it exchanged with its US lawyers, which were seized in a 2017 raid. The court decided in June 2021 that federal prosecutors can access communications between a company and its counsel if the lawyers are registered outside of Switzerland, the EU, the UK or the European Free Trade Association, provided that the company itself is not under investigation.

The firm is also representing a large commodities trading group in a bribery investigation by a US federal agency.

The firm also has significant instructions in the financial sector. Burckhardt advised the board of a Swiss private bank that settled a tax fraud investigation by US authorities in 2020. Schellenberg Wittmer oversaw an internal investigation into the matter and is also provided advice on the bank's interactions with the DOJ.

The firm continues to act for Swiss bank Credit Suisse in various matters, including an ongoing cross-border tax investigation.

The firm also acts in major investigations on behalf of individuals. GIR reported in 2020 that Poglia is acting for Carlos Manuel de São Vicente, the founder and chairman of Angolan insurance group AAA Activos, who is facing money laundering charges in Switzerland. He has denied wrongdoing.

Network

The firm has offices in Zurich and Geneva, and an affiliate office in Singapore.

Clients

The firm has acted for several major companies, including Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, German car manufacturer Volkswagen and commodities trading company Gunvor. Large Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse regularly call on the firm for assistance in white-collar matters.

Track record

The firm’s popularity among commodities traders isn’t a recent development. Borsodi and Poglia guided Geneva-based commodities trader Gunvor Group to one of Switzerland's largest-ever corporate settlements. In October 2019, the company resolved an investigation into allegations of corruption by agreeing a US$94 million settlement with the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland.

In another foreign bribery matter, the firm represented Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in its blockbuster US$2.6 billion trilateral bribery settlement with US, Swiss and Brazilian authorities. The company admitted in the 2016 settlement to paying US$788 million in bribes to officials in 12 countries.

Schellenberg Wittmer has also acted in tax investigations. The firm, along with co-counsel at Niederer Kraft Frey, helped BSI Bank (now known as EFG) reach the first agreement under the US Swiss bank programme, which allowed certain Swiss banks to pay a fine and enter into a non-prosecution agreement to resolve allegations that they helped US citizens evade tax. In 2015, the bank agreed to pay a $211 million penalty in return for the US Justice Department not prosecuting the bank for tax evasion.

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 US$3 billion to authorities and to be overseen by several monitors.

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.

At Schellenberg Wittmer, we strive to meet your needs by providing commercially focused, dedicated legal advice of the highest quality.

We encourage a distinctive team spirit and our teams take a dynamic, open and innovative approach to their work. When you ask us to manage your legal affairs, you do so in the knowledge that our people are collaborating to achieve the best possible outcome for you. We have 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. While remaining independent, we build on our long-term experience and relationships with leading law firms around the globe, cooperating with more than 300 foreign law firms from more than 50 jurisdictions to forge solid international relationships.

Awards and Recognitions

Schellenberg Wittmer is recognised by leading international legal publications and directories, such as Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500, Who’s Who Legal, the IFLR and the Financial Times. Its practices are ranked top-tier in specialist publications, such as GAR, GIR, GRR, GCR and GDR.

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.

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
  • 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

Practice Group Recognitions

The group and leading practitioners are highly ranked among leading law firms in international directories and publications:

  • GIR 100
  • Chambers Europe in White-Collar Crime and Compliance
  • Winner of Regional or Boutique Investigations practice 2017 at GIR Awards
  • WWL Switzerland and WWL Investigations international guide
  • WWL Switzerland Firm of the Year Business Crime Defense
  • Expert Guides
  • GIR 40 under 40
  • Financial Times: Innovative Lawyers
  • Benchmark Litigation Europe

Website: www.swlegal.ch

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