FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER suffered a blow in May 2015 with the departure of Axel Reidlinger, who had been the firm’s sole competition partner in Vienna and its practice group leader. Berlin partner Thomas Lübbig now heads the four-associate team and says he spends about one-third of his time in Vienna. But despite Freshfields’ top-tier status internationally – having been consistently ranked as number 1 in GCR’s Global Elite – there is no question that their Austrian presence has dropped off since Reidlinger’s departure. The firm’s downgrade to “highly recommended” will likely be temporary, however, as senior associate Anna Wolf-Posch is already making waves among Freshfields’ competitors and is well known in Vienna for her competition savvy.
The Viennese team is active and becoming increasingly integrated with the firm’s other practice groups across Europe – particularly in Berlin – working on a number of international, high-profile investigations: they represent a major transport company in a state aid case, and are acting with Freshfields’ London team for a financial institution concerning allegations of foreign exchange rate manipulation, among others. Recently, the Vienna team also provided advice to ThyssenKrupp in a cartel damages case, and to an international retailer of electronic goods in a separate antitrust matter. On the deals side, they advised Wincor Nixdorf with respect to the company’s merger with US competitor Diebold, which cleared with remedies. They are also advising Greenyard Foods on Austrian and German merger control aspects in its buy-up of Lutèce.
Following his departure from Freshfields in 2015, Axel Reidlinger and corporate lawyer Hanno Schatzmann co-founded boutique firm REIDLINGER SCHATZMANN. Reidlinger is a long-time competition heavyweight in Vienna, having acted on some of the largest and most market-defining mergers and antitrust investigations in Austria. After 14 years in the Freshfields’ partnership, he said he departed for the “opportunity to start a new project” and to be in a more flexible and independent position in the Austrian market. One year after setting up shop, Reidlinger’s reputation is as legendary as ever, although his new practice enters GCR’s rankings as highly recommended because of the capacity limits of working in a small team. He is assisted by former Freshfields associate Diana Ionescu, who works primarily in cartel and abuse cases at both the EU and Austrian levels, and new associate Pia Bauer.
Together, they advise the holding company of Austria’s second largest city on a merger control matter, and act for clients in litigation against Altstoff Recycling, which has alleged its competitor abused dominance in the market for commercial packaging waste. Reidlinger is also acting for Interseroh in an EU abuse of dominance proceeding against ARA, and provides competition advice to the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation on a number of ongoing projects. He is counsel to Büromöbel in merger control proceedings, and represents Holding Graz, Reclay and ORF in other matters. The rest of the team’s work is confidential.
FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER garners unanimous praise from its Brussels rivals. Alongside Cleary, Freshfields offers unrivalled quality and depth. While many firms highlight their work on matters across the table from Freshfields, few can claim to compete at its level. The experience and expertise across the firm’s competition roster was boosted further in 2015 following the election of Sascha Schubert to partner. Angélique de Brousse was promoted to counsel in January 2016. While other firms have market-leading practitioners, Freshfields has top-class expertise across the board and is well respected at the commission. Thomas Janssens heads Freshfields’ European practice and partner Frank Montag has won Who’s Who Legal: Competition’s “Global Competition Lawyer of the Year” award seven times in a row, most recently in April 2016.
The firm’s excellent deal practice had an especially strong year between July 2015 and July 2016. The Brussel’s team was instructed on a number of mega-mergers, acting as global coordinating counsel for Ab InBev in its €108 billion acquisition of SAB Miller and advising BG Group during its €65 billion tie-up with Shell, which was ultimately cleared without conditions in September 2015. The firm is advising Boehringer Ingelheim in the European Commission’s extended review of its €22 billion asset swap with Sanofi and acts as global coordinating counsel to Hapag-Lloyd on its €9 billion merger with United Arab Shipping. It acted for CK Hutchison on a pair of Phase II investigations, one into its planned £10.3 billion acquisition of O2 in the UK, which was blocked by the European Commission in May, and the other into its €21.8 billion Italian mobile telecoms joint venture with VimpelCom. Other telecoms work includes advising Liberty Global/Telenet on its acquisition of BASE, a deal that the European Commission has sent to Phase II. Freshfields previously steered Holcim’s tie-up with Lafarge through Phase I clearance with divestitures; represented Rexam in its €6.2 billion takeover of Ball, which was cleared with structural remedies; and guided Siemens’s three-to-two merger with Dresser-Rand, obtaining Phase II unconditional clearance.
That reputation for merger work slightly overshadows the firm’s strong behavioural practice. The Brussels team represents several third parties as DG Comp continues its abuse of dominance proceedings against Google. The firm also specialises in coordinating parallel investigations across multiple jurisdictions. It did just that in the transatlantic credit default swaps investigation for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where the EU commission dropped its investigation after issuing a formal statement of objections. The firm is also active in a number of other cartel investigations, including the freight train, capacitors, cement, optical disk drives and retail food packaging markets, helping clients NEC and Linpac respectively avoid fines in the two latter investigations.
The team is also involved in many follow-on damages claims. It successfully defended ThyssenKrupp in an action arising out of the EU commission’s elevator cartel decision. The team also continues to represent clients in similar damage claims relating to the chemicals, candle wax, car glass and hydrogen peroxide cartel investigations.
FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER maintains a well-known international practice in China, led by Nicholas French, Ninette Dodoo and new joiner Alastair Mordaunt, who came to the Hong Kong office in March 2016 from Clifford Chance in London.
The China team was part of a huge global group assisting Anheuser-Busch InBev as the company acquired SABMiller. The firm handled Mofcom’s review of the deal, which was granted with conditions in July 2016. Biostime tapped the firm to advise its international acquisition of Australian vitamin maker Swisse. In cartels, Freshfields represented Compania Maritima Chilena during the NDRC’s roll-on roll-off shipping cartel investigations, and successfully obtained a reduced penalty following the company’s close cooperation with the enforcer.
FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER lost partner Maria Trabucchi to BDGS Associates in January 2016; the practice now counts sole Paris-based partner Jérôme Philippe and eight associates. He is looking to develop the practice in the follow-on damages area, where Freshfields has a top reputation on the defence side. The team acted for EDF during its planned acquisition of Areva NP, which handles nuclear reactors and fuel assemblies. The deal, which is worth around €2.5 billion, looks set to be notified to DG Comp and others.
But it’s in behavioural work and litigation that the practice has really shone in recent years: the team represented the InterContinental Hotels Group as a third party in the French hotel booking investigation and acts for a major French supermarket chain in a DG Comp milk, pork and beef sector inquiry. Freshfields is acting for a US company in four Paris court cases in which a French minister is attempting to nullify clauses in its distribution agreements with telecoms operators. SGL Carbon is also a client: Freshfields is defending it in a French follow-on claim by incumbent rail operator SNCF following its role in the carbon and graphite products cartel.
Other lawyers consistently cite the large team at FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER, split among offices in Düsseldorf, Cologne and Berlin, as a market leader. The German practice is one of the firm’s best, with nine partners since it promoted Katrin Gassner in Düsseldorf in 2016. A testament to Freshfields’ strength is its roster of household-name clients, which includes the likes of Air Berlin, Chiquita, E.ON, Liberty Global, Mars and Siemens.
Complex international merger clearance is a clear focus for the team. Recently, it acted for Boehringer Ingelheim in DG Comp’s investigation of a €22 billion asset swap with Sanofi, which the enforcer conditionally cleared in Phase I in 2016. Elsewhere, Berlin partner Helmut Bergmann acted for Coty during its US$12.5 billion acquisition of parts of Procter & Gamble’s beauty, fragrance and hair care business. The German practice also represented Ardagh on the acquisition of assets from Ball and Rexam.
Contentious and behavioural work also keeps the Freshfields group busy. The practice represented Russian search engine Yandex in a complaint to the EU against Google. Partners Thomas Lübbig in Berlin and Peter Chrocziel in Munich acted for Genentech during a tough European Court of Justice case. The firm bagged immunity for Linpac in the DG Comp food packaging investigation, and represents several clients in DG Comp and German auto parts investigations. In follow-on damages, the team acts for ABB, Infineon, Mars, Pfleiderer, Solvay and ThyssenKrupp in a slew of cases.
Tommaso Salonico, competition head at FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER in Italy and the firm’s managing partner in the country, is the best competition lawyer in Italy for energy. He works alongside partner Gian Luca Zampa in the Rome office where the team is based, although senior associate Ermelinda Spinelli works from Milan. Unsurprisingly, the firm has a more international focus than the Italian players.
In behavioural work, Freshfields has represented Allianz in an investigation by the Italian authority into alleged excessive pricing in insurance contracts, and Holcim Italia in a cartel investigation of concerted practices between four concrete producers that aimed to increase the price of cement. In merger control, the team advised Holcim Aggregati Calcestruzzi on its joint venture with ready-mix concrete producers Colabeton and Cava di Cusago. The firm also advised private equity group Cinven on its purchase of Ergo Italia, a deal that was cleared in February 2016.
Onno Brouwer and Winfred Knibbeler set up FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER’s Netherlands competition practice in 2000. Both divide their time between Dutch and EU matters. The team is heavily involved in competition litigation and follow-on damages claims. The firm acted for ABB in its defence against a US$38 million gas insulated switchgear cartel damages action brought by Tennet and Saranne. Its appeal was upheld by the Dutch Supreme Court, in a ground-breaking ruling that recognised the “passing-on defence” under Dutch law. The firm is also defending Thai Airways against follow-on claims arising out of the commission’s air cargo decision and acting for UPS in an appeal before the European General Court against the commission’s prohibition of its merger with TNT.
Before the Dutch trade and industry appeals tribunal (the court of last instance) Brouwer represents Ceres in an appeal against the authority’s 2012 flour cartel decision. He also acts for the Dutch Association of Real Estate Brokers (NVM) against an abuse of dominance complaint brought by rival VBO. The claim relates to NVM’s Funda website. Other abuse of dominance work includes advising Anheuser-Busch InBev on an investigation by the commission into parallel imports in the Netherlands, Belgium and France; and Vodafone in claim against KPN for €115 in damages, after it blocked access to its fixed-line network.
In merger control, the firm’s Dutch competition team is advising CK Hutchison on the commission’s Phase II investigation into its €21.8 billion Italian mobile telecoms joint venture with VimpelCom. It is also counselling Boskalis on its acquisition of the VolkerWessels offshore business.
At FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER, counsel Alexander Viktorov heads the Moscow competition group. One associate works with him full-time on competition matters, a majority of which are mergers.
Over the past year, Freshfields advised pension fund company Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) on its US$1.5 billion investment into Bombardier Transportation UK Limited, as well as Rexam on the Russian antitrust aspects of its tie-up with Ball Corporation. Other deals the firm advised on include ChemChina’s purchase of a stake in tyre manufacturer Pirelli, and the Chinese state-owned enterprise’s acquisition of German machinery maker KraussMaffei Group.
Partner Igor Ostapets leads the Russian competition practice at WHITE & CASE in Moscow. There are four associates on the team, which is currently representing Evergreen Marine in the ongoing FAS investigation of an alleged cartel among marine container shipping companies.
On the merger front, the firm is representing new client Cott, one of the world’s largest private-label beverage makers, in its acquisition of water and coffee company Eden Springs in a deal valued at €470 million. Additionally, it advised Naspers Limited, the South African-based global internet and media company, on its US$1.2 billion investment to become the largest shareholder in Avito, the leading online classifieds platform in Russia.
The competition practice at FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER is consistently ranked by its rivals as the best in London. Simon Priddis, who replaced Rod Carlton as head of the practice last year, leads the 14-partner, 59-associate team – by far the largest in the UK market. Nine London partners feature in Who’s Who Legal: Competition, including competition litigation head Jon Lawrence. The firm’s London team is extremely strong in all areas of antitrust.
On the transactional side, James Aitken – working with Brussels partner Thomas Wessely – was involved on perhaps the most high-profile deal of 2016, representing CK Hutchison in its ultimately doomed attempt to buy Telefónica’s UK business. After a lengthy investigation, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition blocked the deal in May. Priddis and partner Alastair Chapman represent the London Stock Exchange during a planned takeover by Deutsche Boerse. Carlton, as well as German partner Peter Niggemann and Thomas Janssens in Brussels, steered BT through its £12.5 billion merger with EE, which the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority ultimately cleared unconditionally after a fast-tracked Phase II investigation.
The London litigation team bagged MasterCard’s defence against one of the first opt-out class action lawsuits brought under the new Competition Appeal Tribunal rules. Lawrence defends Ericsson during a fiendishly complicated Patents Court case involving allegations of anticompetitive behaviour raised by Samsung and Huawei. Freshfields also had a hand in DG Comp’s pay-TV investigation, as well as the Libor and Forex investigations, and several clients have turned to it during the EU competition enforcer’s e-commerce sector inquiry. The firm also picked up work in both the CMA’s major market investigations; it has represented HSBC in the retail banking probe, and SSE in the energy markets proceedings.
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FRESHFIELDS BRUCKHAUS DERINGER promoted Mary Lehner, formerly attorney adviser to FTC commissioners Edith Ramirez and Jon Leibowitz, from counsel to partner in May 2016. She worked with practice chair Paul Yde and partner Thomas Ensign in the antitrust reveiw of Rexam’s takeover by Ball Corporation; Yde and Ensign also teamed up for Intel on its US$16.7 billion acquisition of Altera. The firm is regular antitrust counsel to Johnson & Johnson, including in its recent acquisitions of Vogue International and NeoStrata Company.
Yde represents United Airlines on a variety of matters, such as the DOJ challenge to its slot acquisitions from Delta at Newark airport, which ended when a regulatory change made slots easily available, and the ongoing DOJ investigation of alleged capacity coordination among US airlines. Freshfields guided Continental AG through its plea agreement with the Antitrust Division, internal client audits to determine any potential antitrust-related issues, and compliance with DOJ grand jury subpoenas. The firm defends the British Vita Group, which received amnesty from the DOJ, in the Polyurethane Foam antitrust litigation, and Hachette in the e-books follow-on.
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