Proceedings before the Federal Tribunal stayed when there is a preliminary issue to be determined in a foreign court

Case information
July 23, 2014
Interest to foreign readers: 
Very interesting
Jurisdiction of the Arbitral Tribunal
Appeal against interlocutory and partial awards
Lis pendens rule
Original language: 
33 ASA Bull 126 (2015)




Introductory note: 

The case involved a dispute concerning services performed in a large development and construction project in Ukraine. Two Cypriot companies were involved. They had concluded a contract concerning the management and the supervision of the project containing an ICC arbitration clause. One of the companies went bankrupt and sought the reimbursement of some payments made to the other by starting arbitration proceedings. The ICC appointed Christopher Koch as sole arbitrator and determined Geneva as the seat of the arbitration.


The Respondent challenged the validity of the introduction of the arbitration proceedings because the official receiver who issued the power of attorney to the lawyer acting on behalf of the bankrupt company did not have the authority to do so in the Respondent’s view.


In a jurisdictional award of January 14, 2014, the Arbitrator held that he had jurisdiction and this was appealed to the Federal Tribunal. The following are interesting in the opinion:


(i)        The Federal Tribunal affirmed its prior view that the capacity to conclude a valid arbitration agreement is within the realm of jurisdictional issues and is governed by the law applicable to the company or individual entering into the arbitration agreement. This can raise some very delicate issues, as the Vivendi case (4A_428/2008[1]) and the subsequent “Portuguese reversal” (4A_50/2012[2]) showed. (See Section 3.1 of the opinion in this respect.)

(ii)        The Federal Tribunal has jurisdiction to decide the preliminary factual or legal issues necessary to determine jurisdiction but it may stay the proceedings in the Federal Tribunal if a State Court having meritorious jurisdiction is already seized of the same issue and can be expected to deliver a final judgment in the matter. (See Section 3.4 of the opinion in this respect.)

(iii)       In the case at hand, the Federal Tribunal decided to stay the proceedings in Switzerland pending a final decision by the Supreme Court of Cyprus. An enquiry made to the parties as of the date of this translation indicated that the Cyprus decision has not yet been issued.





Judgment of July 23, 2014




First Civil Law Court



Federal Judge Klett (Mrs.), Presiding

Federal Judge Kolly

Federal Judge Hohl (Mrs.)

Clerk of the Court: Hurni


X.________ Ltd.,

Represented by Dr. Bernhard F. Meyer and Dr. Dominik Vock,





Y.________ Ltd. (in liquidation),

Represented by Dr. Tetiana Bersheda,






A.a. Y.________ Ltd., in liquidation (Claimant in the arbitration and Respondent in the appeal) and X.________ Ltd. (Defendant in the arbitration and Appellant in the appeal) are companies governed by Cyprus law headquartered in Limassol (Cyprus).


In July 2004, both parties entered into a Project Management and Supervision Agreement. The object of the contract was a large construction project south of the city of Kiev in Ukraine. It was anticipated that the land owned by Y.________ Ltd., which at the time was still in the agricultural production zone, would be re-zoned and that 1’500 apartments, luxurious one-family houses, hotels, a golf course and a yachting harbor would be built, among other things. X.________ Ltd. undertook to carry out the planning and then the construction management of the entire project. As consideration, Y.________ Ltd. undertook to compensate X.________ Ltd. for its services.


After X.________ Ltd. drew up all the plans and obtained the necessary state permits, Y.________ Ltd. stopped the payment of its fees in January 2007. On October 25, 2007, Y.________ Ltd. terminated the contract with X.________ Ltd.. Simultaneously, it sold all of its assets at the time and distributed the proceeds of this transaction amounting to EUR 610’019’076 to its mother company, Z.________ Holding GmbH. Y.________ Ltd. thus became a shell without any assets.


A.b. On November 19, 2007, X.________ Ltd. initiated the service of an official claim for payment amounting to USD 6’175’645 to the Respondent through the District Court of Cyprus. Y.________ Ltd. did not pay the amount claimed within the legal time limit of three weeks and on January 11, 2008, X.________ Ltd. applied to the Limassol District Court for a winding-up order of the Respondent.


Eventually, the claim of X.________ Ltd. was examined in the collection proceedings in Cyprus. In a judgment of November 27, 2009, the Limassol District Court put Y.________ Ltd. in bankruptcy. This judgment was not appealed.



B.a. On July 13, 2011, the legal representative of the bankrupt Y.________ Ltd., Dr. Bersheda, relied on the arbitration clause at Art. 5.1 f. of the Project Management and Supervision Agreement to initiate arbitral proceedings with the Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris against X.________ Ltd.. She relied upon a Power of Attorney of the Official Receivers, Mr. A.________, who had been appointed by the court in this case as provisional Liquidator in conformity with Cyprus law. Mr. A.________ did not seek the approval of the competent district court in Limassol for the introduction of arbitral proceedings. Eventually, a sole arbitrator sitting in Geneva was appointed to adjudicate the dispute. Dr. Bersheda submitted to the Arbitral Tribunal, among others, that it should be found that Y.________ Ltd. did not owe anything to X.________ Ltd.


On November 9, 2011, the Limassol District Court issued an injunction to the provisional Liquidator it had appointed ordering a temporary stay of the arbitration. The background of this first anti-suit injunction was the issue of the legality of the introduction of the arbitration, among others, the aforesaid power of attorney to Dr. Bersheda.


Shortly after the Limassol District Court definitively appointed Mr. A.________ as Liquidator in June 2012, he examined the evidence X.________ Ltd. introduced in support of a claim increased to USD 12’446’229. On July 27, 2012, he allowed a claim of USD 4’950’542 in the bankruptcy.


On June 14, 2012, the anti-suit injunction of the District Court of Limassol was removed.


On August 9, 2012, the Limassol District Court issued a second ex parte decision stopping the arbitration proceedings in Switzerland.


On February 15, 2013, the second decision of the Limassol District Court was also lifted.


In a judgment of July 19, 2013, the Limassol District Court rejected the submissions of Y.________ Ltd., pursuant to which it was held that (1) the introduction of the arbitration proceedings by the provisional liquidator without prior approval of the Court was illegal, (2) the power of attorney issued to Dr. Bersheda by the Official Receiver was invalid for lack of approval of the Court and (3) the Official Receiver should be barred from conducting the arbitral proceedings. Y.________ Ltd. appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Cyprus; the corresponding legal recourse is still pending.


Upon submission by the Appellant, the Arbitrator at first limited the arbitral proceedings to the procedural issue as to whether or not the Respondent could be a party and had standing to act, whether or not the decision to open bankruptcy proceedings on November 27, 2009, was binding as to the arbitration, whether or not the Arbitrator had jurisdiction in the case at hand, and whether or not the legal representative of the Respondent, Dr. Bersheda, had introduced the proceedings validly.


B.b. In a “Partial Award” of January 14, 2014, the Arbitrator made the following findings and orders:


“a) Y.________ Ltd. (in Liquidation) has standing to be a party in this arbitration.


b) The ICC arbitration with the number 18075/FM/MHM/EMT was validly introduced by Claimant.


c) My appointment as Sole Arbitrator by the International Court of Arbitration of the ICC is valid, as a consequence of which I have jurisdiction to decide on this dispute.


d)The decision of the District Court of Limassol of 27 November 2009 does not constitute res judicata for the issues arising in this arbitration.


e) X.________ Ltd. will reimburse Y.________ Ltd. the amount of USD 267,005 in legal costs.


f) No further claims are determined in this Partial Award at this stage of the arbitration.”2


C. In a civil law appeal, X.________ Ltd. makes the following submissions to the Federal Tribunal:


“1. The partial award of the ICC arbitral tribunal (Case n. 18075/FM/MHM/EMT) is to be annulled.


2. The arbitration (Case n. 18075/FM/MHM/EMT) should be sent back to the arbitrator appointed by the International Chamber of Commerce for a new decision consistent with the reasons of the judgment of the Federal Tribunal.


3. All court costs and the Appellant’s costs should be paid by the Respondent.”


Y.________ Ltd. submits in its brief that the matter is not capable of appeal and, in the alternative, that it should be rejected. The Arbitrator did not state his position.



By decision of the presiding judge of April 22, 2014, a stay of enforcement was granted.






According to Art. 54(1) BGG,3 the judgment of the Federal Tribunal is issued in an official language,4 as a rule, the language of the decision under appeal. When the decision is in another language, the Federal Tribunal resorts to the official language chosen by the parties. The decision under appeal is in English. As this is not an official language and the parties used German before the Federal Tribunal, its judgment shall be issued in German.



In the field of international arbitration a civil law appeal is permitted, pursuant to the requirements of Art. 190-192 PILA5 (SR 291) (Art. 77(1)(a) BGG).


2.1. The seat of the Arbitral Tribunal is in Geneva in this case. Both parties had their seat outside Switzerland at the relevant time. As the parties did not waive the provisions of Chapter 12 PILA in writing, they are applicable (Art. 176(1) and (2) PILA).


2.2. The award under appeal is an interlocutory decision concerning jurisdiction issued independently. According to Art. 190(3) PILA, it may be appealed by way of a civil law appeal on the grounds set forth at Art. 190(2)(a) and (b) PILA (BGE 130 III 76 at 3.1.3, p. 79; at 3.2.1, p. 79 f.; at 4, p. 82 ff.).



The Appellant argues that the Arbitrator accepted jurisdiction wrongly or “in any event, too soon.” The Respondent was incapable of acting and had no standing to sue because the Power of Attorney signed by the Official Receiver in favor of the Respondent’s attorney was invalid according to the law of Cyprus. According to Art. 233(1) of the Cyprus Company Law (CCL), during a winding-up procedure in court, the liquidator has the right to initiate or defend against claims in the name of the company only if the court or the Committee of Inspection gives its approval. There was no such approval in the case at hand. According to the applicable company law, the Cypriot Liquidator was consequently not authorized to introduce the arbitration. Thus, he also could not legally appoint Dr. Bersheda as legal representative of the Respondent. The arbitration was therefore introduced by an attorney without power, which caused the arbitration to be invalid.


3.1. The capacity to enter into an arbitration agreement and to act as a party in an arbitration (the so-called subjective capacity to arbitrate or capacity to arbitrate ratione personae; arbitrabilité subjective), must be examined in the framework of the jurisdictional appeal, according to Art. 190(2)(b) PILA (BGE 138 III 7146 at 3.2, p. 719 with several references). Whether or not the person acting for a party in the arbitral proceedings has the corresponding power is also to be examined as an aspect of the subjective capacity to arbitrate (judgment 4A_538/20127 of January 17, 2013, at 4.3.3; Bernard Corboz, Commentaire de la LTF, 2nd ed., 2014, n. 108a to Art. 77 BGG).


The legal capacity of a party in an international arbitration seated in Switzerland is determined according to the case law of the Federal Tribunal by the status of the individual or of the company, therefore pursuant to the law applicable according to Art. 33 f. PILA (for natural persons) and Art. 154, 155(c) PILA (for companies) (BGE 138 III 7148 at 3.3.2, p. 720 with references). The standing of a party to the arbitration and the power of the person acting on its behalf in the arbitration is also determined by the rules applicable to the person or to the company (Art. 35 f. and Art. 154 f., 158 PILA) or to the power to represent (Art. 126 PILA) (judgment 4P.161/1992 of December 22, 1992 at 4a with reference to the message of the Federal Council concerning PILA of November 10, 1982, BBI 1983 I 263 ff., 459, §2101.22).



3.2.1. The Arbitrator held first that, according to Cypriot law, the Respondent remained capable of acting despite the initiation of the bankruptcy and therefore was also capable of being a party according to the Swiss lex arbitri. This is acknowledged by the Appellant in its appeal brief and is therefore not at issue.


3.2.2. Then, the Arbitrator examined the issue raised by the Appellant as to whether or not the Official Receiver was entitled to issue a Power of Attorney to Dr. Bersheda for the introduction of the arbitration. In this respect, he referred to the July 19, 2013, judgment of the Limassol District Court, which addressed this very issue. According to it, Art. 233(1)(a) and Art. 242 of the Cyprus Company Law (CCL) are decisive and they read as follows:


Art. 233(1)(a) CCL

“The liquidator in a winding up by the Court shall have the power, with the sanction either of the Court or the committee of inspection to bring or defend any action or other legal proceeding in the name and on behalf of the company.”


Art. 242 CCL

“Where in the case of a winding up there is no committee of inspection, the Official Receiver may, on the application of the liquidator, do any act or thing or give any direction or sanction which is by Law authorized or required to be done or given by the committee.”9


The District Court drew the following consequences from these two provisions: if there is a Committee of Inspection, the liquidator must obtain authorization either from the Court or the Committee of Inspection before he can initiate a claim in court on behalf of the company. When there is no Committee of Inspection, however, and the Official Receiver is also the liquidator, he may empower himself to raise claims in the name of the company. This second configuration applies to the case at hand, according to the District Court, and the Official Receiver, Mr. A.________, was therefore empowered to appoint Dr. Bersheda as representative of the Respondent with a view to the initiation of an arbitration.


The Arbitrator shared the view of the District Court. He addressed the Appellant’s objection that the Official Receiver would become a judge in his own case if he could issue his own authorization as follows: as opposed to a liquidator the Official Receiver is an employee of the ministry for commerce, industry, and tourism.10 Therefore, he belongs to the Cypriot administration and is subject to administrative supervision. Contrary to the Appellant’s view, it is therefore compatible with the Cypriot legal system that the Official Receiver would not require the approval of a court. Accordingly, the Official Receiver was entitled according to the Cypriot Company Law to issue a power of attorney to Dr. Bersheda.


3.2.3. Finally, the Arbitrator examined whether or not counsel appointed by the Official Receiver validly initiated the arbitration proceedings in the International Chamber of Commerce. As to applicable law, the Arbitrator referred to Art. 126 PILA, according to which the requirements concerning whether the principal is bound towards third parties by an act of the agent are governed by the law of the state in which the agent principally acts in the matter at hand (§ 2) and the applicable law according to paragraph 2 also applies to the relationship between the agent not duly empowered and the third party (§ 3). As Dr. Bersheda acts in Switzerland, Swiss law applies to this issue. According to Art. 38(1) OR,11 the legal transaction concluded by an agent without power may be ratified by the principal. According to the Arbitrator, consent was given in casu: indeed, in its July 19, 2013, the District Court implicitly approved Dr. Bersheda’s authority to initiate a case and to introduce arbitration proceedings insofar as it reached the conclusion that the Official Receiver, acting as provisional Liquidator, did not require prior approval of the court to issue a power of attorney. Therefore, Dr. Bersheda was duly empowered and entitled to initiate the arbitration, even if the Supreme Court of Cyprus should come to the conclusion that the July 19, 2013, judgment of the District Court was wrong. In any event indeed, the District Court would have given, in retrospect, an implicit agreement to the Power of Attorney with this very judgment.


3.2.4. In doing so, the Arbitrator produced two alternate reasons as to the issue of the Official Receiver’s entitlement to issue a Power of Attorney to Dr. Bersheda: on the one hand, the Official Receiver was also the provisional Liquidator and did not require any approval of the Tribunal or of the Committee of Inspection according to Art. 233(1)(a)(i)(V)(m) 242 CCL, as the District Court rightly pointed out in its judgment of July 19, 2013. On the other hand, in its judgment of July 19, 2013, the District Court implicitly approved the Power of Attorney and therefore gave its agreement retrospectively. Therefore, there is a valid Power of Attorney even if the Supreme Court were to annul the District Court judgment of July 19, 2013.


3.3. These reasons are not convincing. The Appellant rightly sees a contradiction when the Arbitrator attempts to interpret the judgment of the District Court of July 19, 2013, as granted (implicit) judicial approval or ratification before coming to the conclusion that judicial approval was not required to issue the power of attorney. Furthermore, it is not understandable to what extent this allegedly implicit judicial ratification could have stood if the Supreme Court of Cyprus were to annul the judgment of July 19, 2013. Instead, the legal approach of the District Court as to the dispensability of judicial approval would then turn out to be wrong and the implicit approval would also be annulled. Thus, the reasons contained in the award under appeal hold only if the view of the District Court that the Official Receiver did not need the approval of the court or of the Committee of inspection to issue a power of attorney are upheld by the Supreme Court of Cyprus.



3.4.1. In the framework of a jurisdictional appeal, the Federal Tribunal reviews the legal issues at hand freely, including the substantive preliminary issues, which are relevant to the decision as to jurisdiction. When these are to be assessed according to foreign law, the Federal Tribunal reviews its application in the framework of a jurisdictional appeal freely as well and with full power of review. In this respect, the Federal Tribunal follows the dominant view in the applicable foreign legal order and, in case of controversy between case law and legal writing, it opts for the highest court (BGE 138 III 71412 at 3.2, p. 719 f. with references).


3.4.2. The power of the Federal Tribunal to decide a preliminary issue flows from Art. 31 BGG, according to which, the Federal Tribunal decides preliminary issues when it has jurisdiction in the main matter. However, when preliminary issues arise from a foreign legal order, the jurisdiction to decide them is given only insofar as the bodies or courts having substantive jurisdiction in the case at hand have not issued an enforceable judgment in this respect (BGE 137 III 8 at 3.3.1, p. 13). If there is not yet an enforceable judgment but the corresponding proceedings are pending before the courts that have jurisdiction on the merits, the Federal Tribunal may stay the proceedings pursuant to Art. 6(1) BZP,13 compared with Art. 71 BGG, and wait until the competent authority as to the merits decides the preliminary issue in its own pending proceedings (Florence Aubry Girardin, Commentaire de la LTF, 2nd ed. 2014, n. 11 to Art. 31 BGG; Markus Boog, Basler Kommentar, 2nd ed. 2011, n. 5 to Art. 31 BGG; as to the power to stay the proceedings when there is a pending procedure in the competent bodies see also Sven Rüetschi, Vorfragen im schweizerischen Zivilprozess, 2011, p. 110 and Christoph Hurni, Berner Kommetar, 2012, n. 19 to Art. 57 ZPO).


3.5. Whether the Arbitral Tribunal has jurisdiction in the case at hand depends upon the preliminary issue as to whether or not the power of attorney issued by the Official Receiver is valid according to Cypriot law. This very issue is the object of the judgment of the Limassol District Court of July 19, 2013, which has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Cyprus. The corresponding legal recourse is still pending today. Thus, there is not yet an enforceable judgment as to the relevant issue in the case at hand under the law of Cyprus, for the determination of which, the highest court of Cyprus has material and functional jurisdiction in final instance. In order to avoid the risk of contradictory judgments, it is therefore necessary to stay the appeal proceedings before the Federal Tribunal until an enforceable judgment from Cyprus is available (as to a stay when there is a risk of contradictory judgments, see also BGE 129 III 186 at 2.3, p. 191 f.)



Therefore the Federal Tribunal Pronounces:



The proceedings are stayed until a decision of the Supreme Court of Cyprus in the appeal proceedings against the judgment of the District Court of Limassol of July 19, 2013.



This decision shall be notified in writing to the parties and to the ICC Arbitral Tribunal sitting in Geneva.





Lausanne, July 23, 2014



In the name of the First Civil Law Court of the Swiss Federal Tribunal




Presiding Judge:                                              Clerk:

Klett (Mrs.)                                                      Hurni