Transglobal Green Energy v. Panama

Panama2016This case summary is based on the publicly-available ICSID award in the case between the American company Transglobal Green Energy (”Transglobal”) and The Republic of Panama. In the award from June 2, 2016, the arbitral tribunal rejected the case early on and found that the investors attempted to abusively create jurisdiction under an investment treaty.

The case centered around a hydro-electric power plant in Panama. A company owned by Panamian national Julio Cesar Lisac had been awarded a concession to operate the plant for 50 years. After the first year, the Panamian authorities found that Mr. Lisac’s company did not meet the requirements of the concession and therefore terminated the agreement (and later awarded the concession to another company). Mr. Lisac challenged this termination in Panamanian courts.

Subsequent to the termination of the concession, Mr. Lisac transferred part of his company’s interests in the power plant project to Transglobal, a company incorporated in Texas. Using Transglobal’s American nationality, an arbitration was brought against Panama based on the bilateral investment treaty (”BIT”) between USA and Panama. The investors alleged that the termination of the 50-year concession was made in violation of the BIT.

The arbitrators found that they did not have jurisdiction over the case and thus rejected the claim early in the proceedings. Since Mr. Lisac and his comapny both had Panamanian nationality, the move to transfer the interests in the power plant to American-incorporated Transglobal was held to be made with the only purpose of obtaining protection under the BIT between USA and Panama. Therefore the tribunal stated that the investor attempted to create ”artificial jurisdiction over a pre-existing domestic dispute”, thereby abusing the system of investment treaty arbitration.

The tribunal’s reasoning was similar to that in Philip Morris v. Australia, where another tribunal refused to hear Philip Morris’ claims because they were found to constitute an abuse of the investment treaty system.

Both these recent cases demonstrate that there is no room to exploit ISDS to bring unjustified claims. One academic recently described this as a tendency by tribunals to ”police the gates to investment treaty claims against states”.