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Enron Nigeria Power Holding, Ltd. v. Federal Republic of Nigeria

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 27, 2016

Enron Nigeria Power Holding, Ltd., Appellee
Federal Republic of Nigeria, Appellant

          Argued October 7, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:13-cv-01106)

          David Elesinmogun argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

          Kenneth R. Barrett argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellee.

          Before: Rogers, Tatel and Griffith, Circuit Judges.


          Rogers, Circuit Judge

         In 1999, the Republic of Nigeria entered into a power purchase agreement ("PPA") with Enron Nigeria Power Holding, Ltd. ("ENPH"), for construction of electrical facilities. Days later, Nigeria suspended implementation of the PPA, and after years of attempted renegotiation over one phase of construction proved fruitless, ENPH filed under the PPA for arbitration by the International Chamber of Commerce's International Court of Arbitration ("ICC"). The ICC issued an Award in ENPH's favor. When collection efforts failed, ENPH filed a petition for confirmation and enforcement of the Award in the federal district court here. Nigeria now appeals from the order granting enforcement of the Award.

         Invoking Article V(2)(b) of The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (known as the "New York Convention"), 21 U.S.T. 2517, Nigeria contends that enforcement of the Award violates the public policy of the United States not to reward a party for fraudulent and criminal conduct. It maintains that ENPH and Enron International Corporation ("Enron") are alter egos, and, alternatively, that ENPH made false and fraudulent representations about Enron to induce Nigeria to enter the PPA. Although the question whether enforcement of the Award should be denied on public policy grounds is a question for the courts to answer, the interpretation of the PPA, by its terms, was for the ICC. The ICC's findings, to which an enforcing court owes substantial deference, doom Nigeria's public policy defense in the absence of evidence or equities warranting the piercing of Enron's corporate veil. Accordingly, for the following reasons, we affirm the order enforcing the Award.


         The New York Convention is a multilateral treaty that, with exceptions, obligates participating countries to honor international commercial arbitration agreements and to recognize and enforce arbitral awards rendered pursuant to such agreements. Comm'ns Import Export S.A. v. Republic of the Congo, 757 F.3d 321, 324 (D.C. Cir. 2014). The United States and Nigeria are signatories to the Convention, 21 U.S.T. 2517, and Chapter 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act implements the Convention. 9 U.S.C. §§ 201-08. The FAA provides that the court "shall confirm the award unless it finds one of the grounds for refusal or deferral of recognition or enforcement of the award specified in the said Convention." Id. § 207. Article V of the Convention sets forth the grounds for refusal or deferral of enforcement. As relevant, Article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention provides:

Recognition and enforcement of an arbitral award may also be refused if the competent authority in the country where recognition and enforcement is sought finds that . . . [t]he recognition or enforcement of the award would be contrary to the public policy of that country.

         The following facts found by the ICC bear on Nigeria's appeal. In 1999, Lagos State, a regional government in Nigeria, was "in desperate need of energy." ICC Partial Award ("ICC") ¶ 45 (incorporated by reference in the Final Award). By letter of June 19, 1999, Enron International expressed interest in working with Lagos State, stating that "Enron is the highest ranking power and gas company and is the leading company worldwide in such industry." ICC ¶ 246. A month later, Enron formed ENPH as a special-purpose vehicle to construct and operate power plants in Lagos State. ICC ¶ 2. The following month, Lagos State entered into a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") on the first and second phases of the construction project with ENPH and YFP (a Nigerian power company) in which it was agreed that the companies and their affiliates (including Enron) had the technical and financial capacity to perform the project, having developed gas pipelines in the United States, Colombia, Bolivia, and Brazil, and electric power plants worldwide. ICC ¶ 247. On November 17, 1999, ENPH representatives and an employee of Enron International met with representatives of Nigeria, including President Obasanjo of Nigeria and the Governor of Lagos State. At the meeting, ENPH gave a PowerPoint presentation touting Enron's vast financial and technical capabilities and describing Enron as the company with which ENPH was "affiliated." ICC ¶¶ 239-40.

         On December 6, 1999, Nigeria, Lagos State, the National Electric Power Authority of Nigeria ("NEPAN"), and ENPH executed the PPA, with ENPH as "Owner" of the energy facilities, Lagos State as "Purchaser" of the energy, NEPAN as regulator of the facilities it would connect to Nigeria's power grid, and Nigeria as "Guarantor." PPA Recitals (Dec. 6, 1999); ICC ¶¶ 25, 28. Enron was not a party to the PPA, nor was its participation in the construction project mentioned in the PPA. ICC ¶ 243. The PPA provided for three phases of construction: Phase I, three offshore, barge-mounted electricity generating units; Phase II, an on-shore power plant in Lagos; and Phase III, an additional set of barge-mounted units. PPA Clause 1; ICC ¶ 27. As regards Phase II, ENPH's obligations were contingent upon satisfaction of certain conditions by December 31, 2000, including possession of a plant site, all necessary easements from Lagos State and Nigeria, and a security letter of credit. PPA Clause 3.1. ENPH was authorized to seek independent "financing for at least 70 percent of the full capital costs" of the onshore power plant, pipeline, and other Phase II facilities. PPA Clause 3.1(iii). The parties were bound to use all reasonable efforts to ensure that the conditions were timely satisfied. PPA Clause 3.2. Additionally, the PPA provided that all disputes not informally resolved between the parties would be settled by binding arbitration under the Rules of Arbitration of the ICC. PPA Clause 23.3.

         Nine days after the PPA was executed, NEPAN wrote to ENPH that implementation of the PPA was "stayed until further notice." ICC ¶ 50 (quoting NEPAN Ltr. Dec. 15, 1999). Five days earlier, the World Bank had written to Nigeria, Lagos State, and NEPAN to express economic criticisms of a draft of the PPA. ICC ¶ 49. Nigeria's President informed Lagos State in January 2000 that the Attorney General of Nigeria had concluded the PPA was invalid under Nigerian law and suggested that the PPA be renegotiated. ICC ¶ 52. In June 2000, the parties agreed to an amended PPA regarding Phases I and III - along with Enron Nigeria Barge Ltd., to which ENPH had transferred its rights and obligations with respect to those phases. ICC ¶¶ 51, 60. Thereafter, AES ...

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