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Merrill Has No Case Against Ex-Client in Singapore, Lawyer Says

Merrill Lynch & Co.’s suit seeking $9.4 million from Indonesian businessman Prem Harjani has no legal basis, a lawyer for the bank’s former private-banking client told a Singapore court today.

“The evidence they’ve presented is not sufficient to fulfill the ingredients of fraud,” Denis Tan, Harjani’s lawyer, said. The businessman has “no case to answer.”

The Bank of America Corp. unit’s lawyers told Justice Andrew Ang of the Singapore High Court yesterday that Harjani conspired with Renaissance Capital Management Co. to deceive the bank in 2008 over shares in PT Triwira Insanlestari which he instructed Merrill to purchase for him. The trial, scheduled to run till April 23, ended today. The lawyers must make their final written submissions by April 30.

Harjani, 51, has denied Merrill’s claims and said the New York-based bank sold the shares without his knowledge and violated its policy of getting prior approval from management before allowing a significant transaction.

Merrill “should come and sit down and talk to me. They’re the ones who agreed to buy and then sold the shares later,” Harjani said on the phone from Jakarta. “Why should we have to be hitting it out at each other in the courts.”

Christopher Majeski, Merrill’s head of compliance for its wealth management unit in Asia and its main witness in the case, told the court he didn’t know if pre-approval was given for Harjani’s $14.3 million purchase of Triwira shares.

Rob Stewart, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for Merrill, declined to comment today.

Harjani sued Merrill in a Jakarta court in November 2008 for $90 million and an unspecified amount in Singapore after the bank won a Singapore court order freezing his assets in the city. The bank sued Harjani after he failed to make a full payment for the share purchase.

Drew & Napier LLC is representing the bank while Straits Law Practice LLP represents Renaissance.

Renaissance’s previous lawyers Bih Li & Lee discharged themselves from the case before the trial began. A partner at the firm Anthony Lee and Harjani declined to comment on the discharge.

The case is Merrill Lynch Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Prem Ranchand Harjani and Renaissance Capital Management Investment Pte., 773/2008/K in the Singapore High Court.

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