GCR 100 - 17th Edition

Switzerland

10 January 2017

Switzerland

In a landlocked island at the heart of Europe, Switzerland’s economy is dominated by several highly concentrated markets, which feed an equally concentrated competition bar.

Elite

The godfather of Switzerland’s competition bar, HOMBURGER was the first firm to establish an antitrust practice in the early 1960s and remains one of the country’s elite. Franz Hoffet leads a competition team that boasts real depth, working with partner Marcel Dietrich and a roster that counts two counsel – Martin Thomann and Andreas Burger, who was promoted this year – and several associates. Partner Gerald Brei left for Eversheds earlier this year, but Hoffet expects the departure to have little effect on the practice. The competition team, which recently merged with the firm’s wider regulatory group, has serious pedigree, having previously represented clients in Switzerland’s first-ever leniency application, its first-ever dawn raid and its first-ever sanction procedure. This year it added another first: acting for Volkswagen-importer AMAG in the country’s maiden hybrid settlement case.

The firm is active in the majority of the major behavioural cases brought by Switzerland’s Competition Commission. It advises leniency-applicant UBS in the enforcer’s Libor, Forex and precious metals investigations – the biggest cartel matters ever handled by the commission. Homburger counsels Alpiq, the country’s largest electricity company, and big-tobacco company Philip Morris. It is advising a company in civil antitrust litigation relating to a selective distribution system and also representing Eli Lilly in its appeal against vertical price-fixing charges before the country’s Federal Supreme Court, as well as several other clients on parallel import cases.

For the most part, merger control work in Switzerland is rare because of the country’s high thresholds, but Homburger sees more of this than most. It advised leading European digital publisher Axel Springer on its joint venture with Ringier, securing Phase I approval for the magazine business deal, and also took instructions from Swisscom regarding a joint venture with Coop, setting up an ecommerce platform. The firm is regularly active on big international mergers that don’t require filing in Switzerland. It coordinated multinational filings for ChemChina on its €39.4 billion takeover of Syngenta and also files deals in Brussels, something that few other Swiss firms are able to do. Last year, the firm was instructed on a pair of megadeals: advising Holcim on its international filings – except in the EU – for its €40 billion merger of equals with Lafarge, and General Electric on its €12.5 billion bid for Alstom’s power and grid businesses.

LENZ & STAEHELIN houses one of Switzerland’s elite competition teams and three of the country’s outstanding antitrust lawyers in Marcel Meinhardt and Benoît Merkt – who respectively head the firm’s Zurich and Geneva-based competition practices – and Astrid Waser. They work alongside Rayan Houdrouge and Jürg Simon, who respectively head and co-head the firm’s employment and intellectual property practices. The wider team is one of the largest in Switzerland, boasting two counsel and 16 associates who assist on competition matters.

Size is one thing, but quality is another, and year on year Lenz & Staehelin’s client and matter lists speak for themselves, especially in behavioural work. The firm is involved in most if not all Competition Commission (COMCO) investigations, and has developed significant expertise in several sectors, including telecoms, postal, finance, media, energy and construction. Because so many of Switzerland’s markets are concentrated, Lenz & Staehelin has been able to develop and maintain sector-specific specialties simply by representing many of the few industry-leading companies that exist, Meinhardt says.

The firm’s standout behavioural work is rich and varied across both offices. Out of Geneva and Zurich, the firm represents financial institutions in the Libor, Forex and precious metals probes. Meinhardt in Zurich represented Colgate-Palmolive in a landmark case before the Federal Supreme Court, which ruled that horizontal and vertical agreements on price and territorial foreclosure are a “by object” restriction of competition. The team continues to advise Swisscom on an abuse of dominance investigation in the pay-TV broadcasting market; the company was fined 71.8 million Swiss francs, but its appeal against the sanction is expected to reach the Federal Supreme Court. The Zurich office this represented Ford Credit in the captive finance price-fixing investigation and has also advised CRH in the bathroom fittings cartel investigation and subsequent appeal. Other clients include MasterCard on the interchange fees investigation, Pfizer on Viagra price recommendations, Expedia in the hotel-bookings case and an airline in Air Cargo. Like many firms in Switzerland, merger control work is thinner on the ground than behavioural, but Lenz & Staehelin recently advised chemicals manufacturer Sika on a planned hostile takeover by Compagnie de Saint-Gobain and insurance company Swiss Mobiliar on its acquisition of KKR’s stake in Scout24 Schweiz.

The competition practice at SCHELLENBERG WITTMER is one the country’s best. Co-heads by David Mamane and Jürg Borer – whom contemporaries recognise as one of Switzerland’s standout antitrust lawyers – are assisted by partner Roland Mathys and a team of four dedicated competition associates. Several other junior lawyers are on hand to assist when the caseload requires, as with the 15 ongoing investigations in the last year.

The firm historically has focused on behavioural work and retains a sizeable portfolio of large, market-dominating clients. In the big financial sector investigations, the team represents Credit Suisse – one of the two largest banks in Switzerland. It also advises UPC Cablecom in its complaint against Swisscom, alleging that the telecoms incumbent abused its dominant position in the pay-TV market, and Hotel Reservation Service in the online hotel booking investigation. The firm is long-time counsel to several Swiss energy giants and to market-leading retail chain Coop, which finds itself regularly in COMCO’s crosshairs. In the last year, the firm took on work from several new clients, including Fischer Sports, Philip Morris, and Aldo.

Domestic and international mergers also keep Schellenberg Wittmer busy. Most recently, the team steered Coop’s acquisition of C+C Pfeiffer in Austria, as well as its entry into ALIDIS, a group purchasing organisation, which includes six major retailers with a total turnover of €140 billion. The firm also advised SIX Group, a company that manages the Swiss financial market infrastructure, on its e-billing and direct debit venture with PostFinance, which required notification in Switzerland and the EU. The firm also advises Goldman Sachs on merger control issues in Switzerland.

BAKER & MCKENZIE’s Swiss competition practice is headed by Philippe Reich, who manages the team in Zurich. He is assisted by partners Peter Reinert and Hubert Orso Gilliéron, who oversees the firm’s Geneva practice, and Zurich-based associate Roger Thomi. In October 2016 the firm poached Froriep’s head of competition, Boris Wenger, and partner Alessandro Celli. Wenger previously advised Nikon in an appeal against a multimillion-franc fine for restricting parallel imports. Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court upheld the ruling in October 2016 but reduced the overall fine.

Both Baker & McKenzie’s offices in Zurich and Geneva are involved in some of the country’s key investigations, representing a confidential major international bank in Libor; Estée Lauder in a landmark alleged price-fixing case; and Siegenia-Aubi in its successful appeal to the Federal Administrative Court against COMCO’s window fittings cartel decision – an appeal that is now before the Federal Supreme Court. Other behavioural work included settling an abuse of dominance investigation for Switzerland’s leading national news agency, Schweizerische Depeschenagentur. Much of the team’s work reflects the firm’s international reach. Last year Reich and his team advised German retailer REWE on its acquisition of Kuoni’s travel business, coordinating notification to the European Commission. The firm also advised security company Kaba on its merger with German rival Dorma; no Swiss filing was necessary but the deal required notifying five jurisdictions, including Germany, where the Bundeskartellamt granted Phase I approval. Closer to home, the competition team advised Zürcher Kantonalbank on its acquisition of Swisscanto, securing unconditional clearance at Phase I, and AFG Arbonia-Forster on several of its acquisitions requiring foreign merger filings.

Practice head Mani Reinert is BÄR & KARRER’s only antitrust partner, but he is widely respected and considered by many to be one the of the best competition lawyers in Switzerland. He works closely with five associates, two of whom specialise in competition, and is assisted on occasion by partner Markus Schott, whose practice focuses on administrative law, and counsel Marc Blessing, who is an arbitration specialist.

Most of the team’s clients are confidential, but the firm is active in many of COMCO’s investigations. Reinert is advising banks in the Libor, Forex and precious metals probes and secured a settlement for UBS in the credit card interchange fees case. Elsewhere, the firm represents a company appealing against COMCO’s decision in the wholesale bathroom fittings investigation, and another company in two separate construction sector inquiries. Other clients include Harley-Davidson, FCA and Swiss Air Lines, while in merger control work, Reinert advised on Saint-Gobain’s acquisition of Sika and HNA’s purchase of Gategroup.

CMS SWITZERLAND boasts a strong competition team across offices in Zurich and Geneva with real depth at partner level. Practice leader Patrick Sommer and specialist competition partners Alain Raemy and Pascal Favre are widely respected antitrust practitioners, while the firm’s global corporate head Stefan Brunnschweiler also brings competition expertise.

Sommer and his team work on several important behavioural matters and the firm is one of the few advising two separate banks in COMCO’s finance sector investigations: Rabobank on Libor, Tibor and Euribor; and Julius Bär on Forex and precious metals. Sommer is also leading Bayer Switzerland’s appeal against a COMCO decision that found the pharmaceutical company liable for resale price maintenance, while Stefan Brunnschweiler continues to advise Paul Koch AG on the window and glass door fittings cartel investigation. The Federal Administrative Court overturned sanctions imposed by COMCO, and the case is now on appeal before the Swiss Federal Court of Justice. The firm also represents a company in an investigation into alleged bid-rigging in the construction sector.

As sole partner in the busy competition practice at VISCHER, Klaus Neff works on a mix of Swiss and EU-focused competition matters. Senior associate Thomas Steiner and a handful of other junior lawyers assist Neff on competition matters. The firm prides itself on its expertise in the life sciences, healthcare, energy and technology markets.

The majority of firm’s antitrust work is confidential, but Neff counsels a mix of Swiss businesses and international household names on a wide array of abuse and cartel investigations. He advises RBS on a confidential behavioural matter and FCA Capital, the captive finance company for Fiat in Switzerland, in COMCO’s investigation into allegedly anticompetitive car financing condition agreements. Other non-confidential work includes acting for door-parts manufacturer Immer following a price-fixing fine by COMCO, in a case that Vischer has appealed to the Federal Administrative Court. The firm doesn’t see as much merger control work as some, but it has been tapped by SABMiller Procurement regarding certain aspects of the AB Inbev/SABMiller tie-up.

The competition practice at WALDER WYSS is led by one of the country’s most capable antitrust lawyers, Reto Jacobs. He works alongside partner Hans Rudolf Trüeb – who balances competition work with his intellectual property, procurement and energy law practices – and seven associates, half of whom focus predominantly on antitrust. The team has a very strong domestic client base and advises some of Switzerland’s largest companies.

Jacobs says his team has done more merger control filings that any other Swiss firm in the last five years. Tamedia, the country’s largest media company, is a regular client for which the firm has notified over 20 deals, three of which have gone to Phase II. Most recently Walder Wyss obtained two Phase II clearances for the media group in its sale of search.ch to local.ch and in its acquisition of the Ricardo group, the leading online marketplace and auction platform in Switzerland. Jacobs and his team represent Swisscom in an appeal before the Federal Supreme Court against a record €174.2 million COMCO fine for anticompetitive behaviour in the broadband market. The firm provides ongoing competition and compliance advice to Migros, Switzerland’s largest retail company, and also advises energy company Axpo on distribution work. The team was tapped by British Airways to work on the Air Cargo case.

While it is still very early days for Gerald Brei’s new Swiss competition practice, the former Homburger partner is widely regarded by his peers as an extremely safe pair of hands. Brei is the first dedicated competition partner at EVERSHEDS, but a couple of partners and associates have modest antitrust experience and plans are afoot for expansion. Since his arrival, the firm has been instructed by an airline involved in Air Cargo, a construction company being investigated by COMCO, and a company whose selective distribution system allegedly restricted dealers in their online sales – clients who are expected to be the first of many.

Daniel Emch at KELLERHALS CARRARD in Berne is a well-respected lawyer with a growing reputation. He leads a team that includes partner Daniel Lengauer in Zurich and two associates, one of whom previously worked at COMCO. Emch maintains a well-balanced portfolio of behavioural and merger work. He advised Swisscom, Ringier and SRG – the Swiss Broadcast Company – on one of the country’s largest joint ventures, notifying the deal and guiding it through Phase II without conditions. He also advised Swisscom and Sixt’s joint venture, filing the deal in Switzerland and before the European Commission. Elsewhere, he advises energy company BKW on its buyout of AEK, and Galenica, the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in the country, on its acquisition of a rival. On the behavioural side he is counselling Galenica on an abuse of dominance investigation, Sabag in the bathroom fittings cartel appeal, Kieswerk Heimberg in the gravel cartel investigation and Groupe Editis on resale price maintenance accusations in the book market. He is also advising a bank in the Libor investigation.

The Geneva-based competition practice at MEYERLUSTENBERGER LACHENAL is led by Christophe Rapin. He works with newly promoted partner Christophe Pétermann, who spends half his time in Brussels, and Martin Ammann, a partner with 24 years of Swiss and EU competition law experience, who is due to retire in 2017. Most of the firm’s work, including its representation of financial institutions under investigation, is confidential; half of its business focuses on preventative compliance. Rapin represented SAS Cargo in COMCO’s air cargo investigation and is also advising Felco, Vilegrequin and Calida on competition issues relating to their distribution networks. He says working in the Lausanne area of Switzerland places the firm well to advise high-tech start-ups also located in the area, once such companies mature and begin to develop competition concerns.

Partners Nicolas Birkhäuser and Thomas Frick in Zurich co-head NIEDERER KRAFT & FREY’s respected competition practice, which includes three associates. Perhaps its biggest case is the representation of BMW in an investigation by COMCO into alleged import restrictions, which culminated in a then-record fine of 156 million Swiss francs, against which the team is appealing in the Federal Supreme Court. The firm is also advising a top bank in the Libor and Forex investigations. The firm is working on several mergers, such as a tie-up between two major Swiss private banks, and another deal involving two major logistics providers in the consumer good business.

PESTALOZZI’s well-regarded competition head Christoph G Lang leads a team of three partners and three associates, the majority of whom split their time between antitrust work and other practice areas in the Zurich office. The firm takes on work across the full competition spectrum and across multiple sectors, although it prides itself on a strong presence in the healthcare market. Lang successfully steered Unicredit and Banco Santander’s global asset management tie-up through merger control, notifying for all the parties. The firm previously obtained unconditional clearance for multinational media company Ringier in its takeover of Swiss newspaper Le Temps. Lang and his team continue to represent Mizuho Financial in the Libor investigation and are also advising several household names on parallel imports and distribution matters.

The Berne-based competition group at PRAGER DREIFUSS is led by Philipp E Zurkinden, who works with senior counsel Marino Baldi – a renowned former competition commissioner – and counsel Bernhard Lauterburg. The experienced team has a formidable portfolio of work and is kept busy by several cartel investigations, including Libor, Forex, precious metals, gravel, concrete, captive finance and galvanised steel, although client names in all are confidential. Merger work is also impressive, though again confidential, and includes advising several international household name brands on deals. Meanwhile, the team has developed something of a bespoke practice counselling several trade associations on competition matters, in large part because many of their head offices are located in Switzerland’s capital.

Firm

Head(s) of competition

Size

Who’s Who Legal nominees

Clients

Elite

Homburger

Franz Hoffet

2 partners

2 counsel

7 associates

Franz Hoffet

Marcel Dietrich

Alpiq, AMAG, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Post | DHL, Eli Lilly, General Electric, LafargeHolcim, LVMH | Dior, Nestlé, Philip Morris, Roche, SOCAR, UBS, Visa Europe, Zurich Insurance Group

Lenz & Staehelin

Marcel Meinhardt

Benoît Merkt

5 partners

2 counsel

16 associates

Marcel Meinhardt

Benoît Merkt

Astrid Waser

Implenia, Unilever, Swiss Post, MasterCard, CT Cinetrade/Swisscom, Richemont, Total, Honda, HSBC, Kudelski, CRH

Schellenberg Wittmer

Jürg Borer

David Mamane

3 partners

4 associates

Jürg Borer

David Mamane

BKW-FMB Energie, Carlyle, Coca-Cola, Coop, Credit Suisse, Publicitas/Publigroupe, Salt (previously Orange Communications), Samsung, SIX Group, upc cablecom, Varo Energy, Warner Music Group, Philip Morris, Aldo

Highly recommended

Baker & McKenzie

Philippe Reich

5 partners

2 counsel

3 associates

Philippe Reich

Peter Reinert

Alessandro Celli

Boris Wenger

Estée Lauder, Zürcher Kantonalbank, Swisscanto, Siegenia-Aubi, REWE, KABA, SDA, AFG Arbonia-Forster, EBM, Daimler AG, Ambienta SpA, BAT Switzerland/International, Carlsberg, ASICS, Sonova, Mercuria, Kuoni

Bär & Karrer

Mani Reinert

1 partner

1 counsel

5 associates

Mani Reinert

Saint-Gobain, FCA, EQT, HNA, Swissgrid, KKR, Swiss Prime Site, SK Capital/Archroma, UBS

CMS Switzerland

Patrick Sommer

4 partners

7 associates

Patrick Sommer

Alain Raemy

Bank Julius Bär, Bayer, Credit Suisse, ISS Facility Services, Koch Group of companies, Lagardère Group, Rabobank, Swisscard, V-Zug

Vischer

Klaus Neff

1 partner

4 associates

Klaus Neff

Royal Bank of Scotland, Henkel & Cie, Goldman Sachs, Kuehne + Nagel, MCH Messe Schweiz, Oerlikon, Swisscom, Swiss International Air Lines, Universal Music Group, Air Canada and FCA Capital

Walder Wyss

Reto Jacobs

2 partners

7 associates

Reto Jacobs

Migros, Swisscom, Tamedia, Axpo, Coty

Recommended

Eversheds

Gerald Brei

1 partner

Gerald Brei

N/A

Kellerhals Carrard

Daniel Emch

2 partners

5 associates

Daniel Emch

Swisscom, SRG, Sabag, Flughafen Bern, Galenica, Vifor Pharma, Ringier, BKW AG, Swiss Football League, Groupe Editis, Interforum, Fenaco

Meyerlustenberger Lachenal

Christophe Rapin

3 partners

4 associates

Christophe Rapin

Felco SA, L'Oréal, Yves St-Laurent, Vilebrequin, Strabag, SAS Cargo Group

Niederer Kraft & Frey

Nicolas Birkhäuser

Thomas A Frick

2 partners

3 associates

Nicolas Birkhäuser

N/A

Pestalozzi

Christoph G Lang

3 partners

3 associates

Christoph G Lang

Johnson & Johnson, Sony, Glencore, Ringier, Mizuho Financial Group, British American Tobacco, Swiss Life, McDonalds, Zimmer, Swiss Post/PostFinance, Banco Santander, UniCredit

Prager Dreifuss

Philipp E Zurkinden

1 partner

1 senior counsel

1 counsel

2 associates

Philipp E Zurkinden

Tamedia, Swiss Brands Association, Swiss Insurers Association, Amedis, Loeb, Mobiliar group, Swiss Car Repairers' Association, Cathay

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