Xavier Favre-Bulle_Hanno Wehland

Lenz & Staehelin defends Lebanese-owned telecom operator in Swiss Supreme Court 

Swiss law firm Lenz & Staehelin has successfully defended a Lebanese-owned telecommunications operator in proceedings before the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. The case involved the Republic of South Sudan’s attempt to annul an arbitral award issued in a Geneva-seated ICC arbitration. 

The arbitration concerned a dispute over the jurisdiction of the arbitrator and the applicability of an arbitration clause in relevant license documents. Despite not being a signatory to these documents, the Republic of South Sudan was deemed bound by the arbitration clause according to the sole arbitrator’s decision dated 10 November 2022. 

In a decisive ruling dated 7 August 2023 and communicated with detailed reasons on 24 August 2023, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court upheld the arbitration award and rejected South Sudan’s application to set it aside. 

The background of the case involved establishing the validity of the license documents. The arbitrator’s jurisdiction ruling was based on two primary grounds: the transfer of license documents to South Sudan through succession, and South Sudan’s conduct indicating an intention to be bound by the license terms. South Sudan contested this decision on the grounds of an alleged absence of a valid arbitration clause and a breach of its right to be heard. 

The Supreme Court concurred with the telecommunications operator’s argument that the arbitrator had convincingly validated the license documents containing the arbitration clause. The obligations outlined in these documents had been transferred to South Sudan through an international treaty between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan concerning asset and liability allocation. The court further ruled that there was no violation of South Sudan’s right to be heard during the arbitration proceedings. 

As a result of the ruling, the Republic of South Sudan was ordered to bear all the costs of the proceedings and cover the legal costs of the defendant. 

The Lenz & Staehelin team included partner Xavier Favre-Bulle (pictured left) and counsel Hanno Wehland (pictured right).