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Peru is widely perceived as a bright-spot for Latin American investment, its growing middle-class demanding schools, hospitals, housing, technology and leisure activities, while a decade of sustained growth has led to a massive $160bn infrastructure deficit gap, prompting the government to court international investment. It is also a country awash with mineral resources, the second-largest producer of copper globally, with mining accounting for a third of all tax income. Such natural wealth has attracted the Chinese, and Peru is the first Latin American country with Free Trade and Strategic Alliance agreements with China. Among headline deals of 2017, a consortium led by China Three Gorges (CTG) acquired the Chaglla hydroelectric plant for $1.39bn, and China Development Bank provided $365m finance to Hydro Global Peru (a joint venture between CTG and Energías de Portugal), for the construction of the San Gabán III hydropower plant.

Yet tragically, Peru remains blighted by political instability and continued fallout from the infamous ‘Lava Jato’ corruption scandal. No less than four Peruvian presidents have fallen from grace after being linked to Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which admitted to paying $800m in bribes to politicians and public officials throughout Latin America. The latest is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski who, just 19 months into his presidency and after pledging to eradicate the corruption, was himself implicated in the scandal and forced to resign in March 2018, ahead of an impeachment vote. Whether his successor can reverse the trend and bring stability to the nation remains to be seen.

The impact of Lava Jato on the legal market has been significant. Major infrastructure projects, the mainstay of top-end legal work, have been halted or abandoned, the most high-profile being the $4.3bn Southern Peru gas pipeline which was to be constructed by a consortium led by Odebrecht. The web of companies linked to Odebrecht, including flagship Peruvian developer, Graña y Montero, is so extensive that at least 27 leading commercial law firms have been identified as having links to the disgraced company and are being investigated by the Office for Public Prosecutions, a process that remains in its preliminary stages.

On a positive note, the scenario has brought a surge in legal work in white collar crime, labour law and tax. So extensive are the current allegations of corporate crime and the need for compliance programmes, that the discipline has moved from the domain of small boutique firms to large, full-service ones. Hernández & Cía. Abogados scored the biggest coup with the hire of Gonzalo del Río from Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uria and four associates from a variety of well-known firms to establish a new commercial crime practice. It hit the ground running with instructions to represent both former president Kuczynski and Graña y Montero.

Labour lawyers are in demand from companies implementing corporate restructuring and employee termination as a result of the political impact on the economy, which in turn is driving employment claims from aggrieved workers. And in tax, the 2017 tax amnesty, which allowed the repatriation or declaration of capital kept abroad by Peruvians at a significantly lower tax rate, ensured tax lawyers were busy.

The commercial legal market is small but sophisticated and entirely capable of transacting on the world stage. Two firms stand out for their strength across the board: Rodrigo, Elías & Medrano – Abogados and Miranda & Amado, though arguably, Rodrigo is nudging ahead in terms of top-tier rankings and leading individuals. A chasing pack of full-service, successful firms include: Estudio Echecopar member firm of Baker McKenzie International; Muñiz, Olaya, Meléndez, Castro, Ono & Herrera Abogados; Payet, Rey, Cauvi, Pérez Abogados; Philippi Prietocarrizosa Ferrero DU & Uria; the expanding CMS Grau; and two firms which stood out this year for their impressive growth in an adverse market, Garrigues and Hernández & Cía. Abogados. Both rose in our rankings more than any other firm, the result of aggressive hiring strategies, marked client gains and some enviable instructions. On the next level is a pool of extremely capable, English-speaking firms undertaking high-end work, such as Lazo, De Romaña & CMB Abogados; Estudio Olaechea; Rebaza, Alcázar & De Las Casas (a leader in corporate, M&A and restructuring); and Rubio Leguía Normand; and there is outstanding expertise in niche markets from: Santiváñez Abogados (power); Bullard Falla Ezcurra Abogados (competition); and Barreda Moller (IP), for example.

Other international players in the market include DLA Piper Peru; Kennedys Peru; and most recently, Dentons.

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