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Zimmett and his associates faced off against McDermott Will & Emery in an International Chamber of Commerce arbitration involving over $115 million in claims. The dispute arose from the sale of a subsidiary of a publicly-held U.S. aerospace company to a European conglomerate. The case focused on the engineering of in-flight television systems. Warehouses were searched and thousands of highly technical documents were reviewed. The hearings lasted more than three weeks. Thirty-seven witnesses were presented and cross-examined, including engineering, accounting and financial experts. The documentary evidence filled 29 three-inch ring binders. And when it was over, it was Zimmett and his handful of associates who prevailed.

Zimmett has practiced and taught international law for many years, litigating a number of high-profile cases, such as the following:

Iran Cases and Hostage Crisis

Just three and a half years after joining Shearman & Sterling fresh out of law school, Mark Zimmett was asked in 1979 to play a key leadership role in one of the defining international events of the era. He helped orchestrate Citibank's involvement in the financial fallout from the Iranian revolution and the seizure of 52 American hostages in Tehran. After the Iranian government repudiated $4 billion in foreign loans, and the U.S. government responded to the hostage taking by freezing Iranian assets, the litigation assumed truly global dimensions as an estimated $12 billion in Iranian assets on deposit around the world were frozen. During the next few years Zimmett, still a law firm associate, litigated Iran-related cases for Citibank in the U.S., arguing the only Iranian case Citibank had in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He also coordinated litigation in the UK, France, and Germany and represented Citibank before the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague.

Global finance and diplomacy were all but indistinguishable from each other in the final days leading to the hostages' release as the Reagan Administration assumed office in January, 1981. The Iranians had signaled a senior Shearman & Sterling partner through intermediaries in 1980 that a resolution of the hostage crisis would have to coincide with an unfreezing of Iran's financial assets. As negotiations came down to the wire, Zimmett served as the administrative leader of the largest group of bank attorneys and executives meeting at Shearman & Sterling's offices in New York to execute the transfer of Iranian deposits to an Algerian escrow account at The Bank of England as the hostages were released. Similar groups huddled in Algeria and Washington, D.C. The New York group representing 12 U.S. banks, spent three mostly sleepless nights transmitting terms of the transfers back and forth with representatives of the Iranian government before an agreement was finally reached, the funds transferred, and the hostages released, the morning of the Inauguration. The $5.5 billion transferred by the banks that morning represented the largest private transaction in the nation's history. Time magazine quoted one of the bankers stumbling out of Shearman & Sterling's offices onto Manhattan's 53rd Street that morning as saying, "That's the most nerve-wracking period I have ever spent."


Zimmett's practice occasionally took him far beyond the courtrooms and conference rooms in which lawyers typically practice their craft. In 1979, for instance, he went toe-to-toe, literally, with a deposed Latin American dictator on a yacht anchored in international waters. The deposed despot in question was Anastasio Somoza, former Nicaraguan strongman. Zimmett's purpose was to demand payment of Citibank's outstanding bank loans.

Toe-to-Toe Working with Citibankers, Zimmett had identified several assets belonging to the fallen dictator, including a ship at anchor in the San Diego harbor. Somoza, or one of his family members, had the ship repainted and renamed, but Zimmett was able to trace the ship's registration to clearly show ownership of the vessel by Somoza. Zimmett and a banker rushed to the Bahamas where Somoza was anchored offshore in international waters, the Bahamas being the latest country to toss out the dictator who had been deposed in 1979 by the Sandinistas. Somoza allowed their Zodiac to tie up alongside his yacht, but brushed off their demands for repayment. Instead, he anxiously kneaded away at his big toe (exposed through a blue embroidered hole in his white sock apparently designed to accommodate this nervous quirk) while Zimmett and the banker sat opposite him and tried to impress upon him the seriousness of his situation. Somoza's negotiating posture changed dramatically once Zimmett, back on the mainland, instructed a fellow attorney in San Diego to file the papers to arrest the ship at anchor in U.S. waters. Citibank received prompt payment, plus interest, on its outstanding loans.

Zimmett also successfully enforced repayment of Citibank loans to Somoza's sister, who at the time lived in Washington, D.C. as the wife of the then-dean of the diplomatic corps, Ambassador Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa. A change in the law in December, 1978 facilitated bringing legal action against a member of the diplomatic community. Zimmett was the first attorney in the country to file an action to attach assets under the new law. Within days of attaching her assets in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, Citibank received from Somoza's sister repayment of its loan plus interest.

Swiss Ponzi Scheme
With a proven track record for managing complex international legal disputes while not yet a partner, beginning in 1980 Zimmett acted as the lead litigator for Citibank in what at the time was one of the biggest cases of bank fraud in Swiss history. Eli Pinkas, a respected Swiss businessman and client of Citibank and several other U.S. and European banks, was found dead in his Lausanne, Switzerland home on June 10, 1980. Police discovered that he had committed suicide by ingesting cyanide tablets, and had fed some of the poison to the family dog as well. His divorced wife, Florence, also was found dead of cyanide poisoning that morning in a hotel in Nice, France, where her ex-husband visited her most weekends.

Swiss police quickly determined that Pinkas, despite his staid reputation, for several years had been operating what was in effect a far-flung Ponzi scheme. He was forging documents, including some on forged Citibank stationary, to shift multi-million dollar loans among banks. Principal from new loans was used to repay interest on existing debt. He received financing based on fictitious receivables he claimed were owed Socsil - an otherwise legitimate company he owned that produced nitrous oxide or laughing gas - and other entities.

The receivables were said to be owed Socsil by the United States Army, Sanitary Division. No such division existed. Creditors owed more than $140 million cast around to collect on their bad loans. Zimmett successfully defended Citibank in a number of lawsuits and bankruptcy proceedings arising out of the Pinkas affair in New York, Lausanne and Zurich.

Banco Ambrosiano

Managing the intricacies of cross-border bankruptcies and related workouts would become an increasing part of Zimmett's practice as the 1980s progressed. The European banking world was rocked in mid-1982 when news surfaced of a scandal at Italy's largest commercial bank Banco Ambrosiano, including the apparent suicide of its president, Roberto Calvi, found hanged beneath London's Blackfriar's Bridge, the suicide of his secretary, and $1.4 billion in questionable loans made to paper corporations in Panama. The scandal even reached into the heart of the Vatican. American-born Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, president of the Institute for Religious Works, popularly known as the Vatican Bank, was said to be implicated in facilitating the loan scheme, which eventually led to the bank's collapse. Zimmett, representing a major bank creditor of Bank Ambrosiano, served as a member of the creditors' steering committee for Banco Ambrosiano Overseas Ltd., the bank's Bahamian subsidiary that still held significant assets. In that capacity, he represented the bank in litigation in New York and managed related proceedings in Switzerland, the Bahamas and elsewhere. By successfully beating back the claims of creditors of other Ambrosiano affiliates, Zimmett's client and other creditors of the Bahamian subsidiary were substantially repaid from that subsidiary's assets.

Worldwide Shipping Workouts
Recognizing his significant contributions as a litigator across a broad range of areas, Shearman & Sterling elected Zimmett a partner in the firm in November, 1983. Shortly thereafter, Zimmett broadened his scope still further as the lead player in a series of global shipping industry workouts. Plagued by overcapacity and a global economic slowdown in the early 1980s, several shipping industry leaders, including Japan's Sanko Steamship, the world's largest tanker operator, were on the verge of collapse by mid-decade. As a major creditor to the industry, Zimmett's client Citibank scrambled to secure industry assets from delinquent borrowers. With assets as diverse as corporate securities, real estate on Guam, art collections and ships at sea, the head of Citibank's work-out group chose Zimmett, whom he described as a "talented generalist," to be the bank's lead litigator.

Zimmett led a team of lawyers working on Citibank's behalf in New York, London, Lisbon, Vancouver, Tokyo, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Their goal was to recover loans to shipping companies that included Sanko, Hong Kong's C.H. Tung Group and Wah Kwong Shipping, and U.S. Lines in the United States. Zimmett's team earned a reputation as tough negotiators during the crisis. They arrested two ships from Wah Kwong's 65-vessel fleet, seizing one in Lisbon and another in Vancouver. Citibank took control of the ship in Vancouver and renamed it The Queen Nora after Zimmett's then seven-year old daughter.

International Law Lecturer

Based in this practice experience, Zimmett was invited to teach international law at The New York University Law School, including such subjects as the act of state doctrine, sovereign and diplomatic immunities, comity and conflicts of jurisdiction, expropriations, foreign blocking and secrecy laws and the rights of successor foreign governments.

Zimmett and his associates have continued an international practice, handling such cases as the aerospace arbitration described under 'Arbitration' and other cross-border securities, financial and commercial cases.

FinancialSecuritiesInternationalArbitrationReal Estate and ConstructionOther Commercial

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