Abramovich, HSBC, Wells Fargo, H&R Block in Court News
Roman Abramovich told a London court in a $6.8 billion-dollar fight with Boris Berezovsky that he didn’t seek an extravagant lifestyle with houses in France and the U.K. before he bought the Chelsea Football Club in 2003.
“When I bought Chelsea Football Club that did impact my way of life significantly,” Abramovich, 45, said on his second day of testimony today. “It was a turning point really.”
The 65-year-old Berezovsky, who built Russia’s largest car dealership LogoVaz in the 1990s, claims that he was intimidated by Abramovich into selling his stakes in oil company OAO Sibneft and another state-owned entity for less than they were worth a decade ago.
Abramovich has said in a witness statement that he wasn’t interested in having an extravagant lifestyle like Berezovsky and that he simply wanted to run a successful business. Under questioning today, he said he owned properties including a 420- acre estate in West Sussex, England, luxury flats in the Knightsbridge area of London, and a chateau in France which used to belong to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
The Russian businessman, who is 53rd on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, bought the West London football team for 59.3 million pounds ($69 million) in 2003.
Abramovich told the court yesterday that he rejected Berezovsky’s claims that he had a deal to carve up Russian Sibneft with his former business partner. While Berezovsky had been “very useful” in helping establish Sibneft through his political connections, Abramovich denied that Berezovsky had any actual stake in the company.
In a witness statement filed at court yesterday, Abramovich said Berezovsky’s role had been to provide “krysha,” or protection, in the “dangerous and risky” environment in Russia after the fall of communism.
The two men have presented contrasting versions of the events which turned them from friends and allies into enemies. Berezovsky, who spent seven days being cross-examined at the trial, claims Abramovich told him the Russian state would seize his shares in Sibneft and another company unless he sold out.
The case is Berezovsky v. Abramovich, 09-1080, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Commercial Court.
Credit Industriel Accumulators Retrial Begins, Banker Missing
Credit Industriel et Commercial (CC), a French bank, claimed a former client made a wrong bet in a 2007 transaction that he now insists wasn’t authorized, even as it said the banker involved can’t be found to testify at a re-trial.
“This is a classic case of a punter who makes a series of successful bets in a buoyant stock market and then cries foul when the market turns against him,” Manoj Sandrasegara of WongPartnership LLP, who represents CIC, as the unit of France’s Groupe Credit Mutuel is known, said yesterday at the start of the re-trial at the Singapore High Court.
Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong of Singapore’s Court of Appeal had ruled in April that CIC’s dispute with its former client, Teo Wai Cheong over a S$6.4 million ($5.1 million) debt must be resolved in a new trial after additional evidence came to light.
The judge ordered CIC to disclose internal communications and transcripts of phone conversations that its banker had with Teo and other clients who may have disputed giving instructions to buy accumulators, which are products that commit investors to buy stocks at preset prices for a specified period of time
Ng Su Ming, the private banker who dealt with Teo, has left the country for the Middle East and repeated attempts by the bank to contact her to be present during the retrial have proved futile, Sandrasegara said. He said Ng’s last-known address was in Dubai and she was either genuinely not reachable or didn’t want to cooperate any more in the case.
Teo’s lawyer, Chelva Rajah of Tan Rajah & Cheah, said in his opening statement yesterday that his client will show the former banker’s trial testimony was “peppered with inconsistencies and contradictions” and was “totally unreliable.”
The case is Credit Industriel et Commercial vs Teo Wai Cheong, S626/2008 in the Singapore High Court.
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Charles Schwab Wins Dismissal of N.Y. Auction-Rate Lawsuit
The independent, San Francisco-based brokerage was sued by then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in August 2009. New York State Supreme Court Justice O. Peter Sherwood in Manhattan granted Schwab’s motion to dismiss the case in an order signed Oct. 24 and entered into public court records yesterday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is reviewing the decision, spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said in a phone interview.
Greg Gables, a spokesman for Charles Schwab, said the company is “very pleased” with the outcome.
The attorney general’s office sued on behalf of investors who bought auction-rate securities through Schwab, alleging the company engaged in “fraudulent and deceptive conduct” and failed to disclose the risks involved in the investments, according to Sherwood’s ruling.
Schwab argued that the complaint doesn’t allege statements that were false when made, doesn’t identify who made the misstatements, when and where they were made or how they were misleading, Sherwood said in the order.
The complaint is “devoid of any allegation of misrepresentations made that were untrue when made,” Sherwood wrote in his order, noting that the attorney general’s office spent more than a year investigating before filing the complaint, obtained more than 450,000 documents, received recordings involving more than 200 auction-rate securities and deposed 11 witnesses.
“The complaint, the AG’s response to defendant’s interrogatories and concessions made by the AG at oral argument reveal that the misrepresentations alleged were true when made and that the complaint contains no allegations that ARS were liquid at a time when they were illiquid,” Sherwood said in his ruling.
The case is the People of the State of New York v. Charles Schwab & Co. Inc., 453388/2009, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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HSBC, Other Defendants Seek to Dismiss Madoff Investor Suit
HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) and other defendants in a lawsuit by investors in foreign feeder funds that lost money in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme asked a U.S. judge to dismiss the case, saying it belongs in Ireland and Luxembourg.
The individual investors in 2009 sued Thema International Fund Plc and 27 other defendants, including Thema’s custodian bank, London-based HSBC, alleging the bank should have known of Madoff’s fraud. The investors asked to amend their suit after U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan rejected HSBC’s proposed $62.5 million settlement, saying it is “not fair, reasonable or adequate.”
“These cases do not belong in a United States court,” the defendants said in an Oct. 28 court filing. Referring to two other feeder funds in the suit, they said, “The Thema action belongs in Ireland, and the Primeo and Herald actions in Luxembourg.”
In addition, the plaintiffs are barred by the laws of New York, Ireland and Luxembourg from bringing such claims, the defendants said.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), also a defendant, said separately that the investors shouldn’t be allowed to amend their suit and the case should be dismissed.
Madoff, 73, pleaded guilty in 2009 to orchestrating what prosecutors called the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. He is serving a 150-year sentence in a federal prison in North Carolina.
The case is In re Herald, Primeo and Thema Securities Litigation, 09-cv-00289, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Phone-Hacking Probe Judge Urged Not to Hurt Criminal Trials
The judge overseeing Britain’s government inquiry into News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal pushed back at attempts by police and prosecutors to set limits on the evidence he can review.
U.K. police and prosecutors have said the government inquiry could threaten future criminal trials if evidence is introduced too soon. The probe is being conducted at “enormous expense” to the public and should be “worthwhile,” Judge Brian Leveson, who is overseeing it, said at a hearing yesterday in London.
“I have my own statutory responsibility and my own statutory powers,” Leveson said at the hearing. “It would be an abrogation of those responsibilities if I were to defer” to the police. Leveson hasn’t ruled on the police request.
The inquiry was announced in July by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron nine days after the revelation that journalists at News Corp. (NWSA)’s News of the World tabloid hacked into the phone of a murdered school girl Millie Dowler in 2002. The probe’s scope extends beyond the now-shuttered tabloid, covering press ethics and its relationship with politicians and police.
Lawyers for the Metropolitan Police and the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service asked Leveson to write procedures for the probe to prevent the publicizing of police documents from hurting their criminal cases against former employees of the News of the World tabloid.
Leveson yesterday granted so-called core participant status in the probe to the Telegraph Media Group Ltd. and Trinity Mirror Plc, publisher of the U.K.’s Daily Mirror tabloid, meaning the companies can have legal representation in the inquiry and view evidence.
Police in Surrey, England, also asked Leveson to grant the force core participant status after newspapers revealed officers there didn’t investigate News of the World after it learned the tabloid hacked Dowler’s phone in 2002. The police force’s lawyer said some of its officers may have had their phones hacked.
Leveson didn’t make a ruling on the Surrey force’s request.
Dahdaleh Must Post $16 Million Bail, Get Executive Pledges
British investor Victor Dahdaleh must post 10 million pounds ($16 million) bail in order to be released pending a trial on bribery charges. Several of his friends promised to pay almost one-and-a-half-million pounds if he doesn’t return to court.
Dahdaleh, 68, is accused of paying bribes to a Bahraini royal and the former chief executive officer of Aluminium Bahrain BSC (ALBH) to win contracts for Alcoa Inc. (AA) Judge Quentin Purdy set the bail terms and transferred his case yesterday from a magistrates court to a higher criminal court in London, where he will enter a plea in January.
Friends of Dahdaleh, including Philip Martin Cutts, the chief executive officer of Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN)’s U.K. private bank, and BP Plc executive Thomas Prescott agreed to pay a total of 1.4 million pounds if Dahdaleh doesn’t return to court, according to the Serious Fraud Office, which is prosecuting the case.
Dahdaleh must surrender his British and Canadian passports, wear an electronic tag and spend nights at his home in London’s Belgravia neighborhood. He faces six charges of making corrupt payments, two counts of money laundering, and one charge of conspiracy to corrupt, according to court papers.
A lawyer for Dahdaleh, Ken MacDonald, said he would fight the charges.
The investor, who was a donor to former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation, allegedly bribed officials of the smelting company Aluminium Bahrain, known as Alba, to win contracts for Alcoa to supply alumina, according to the prosecutors.
Dahdaleh paid bribes of $6 million to Sheikh Isa Bin Ali al-Khalifa, the former oil minister of Bahrain and former chairman of Alba’s board of directors, in 2003 and 2004, according to the indictment. He is also accused of paying bribes to Bruce Hall, the former chief executive officer of Alba, totaling around $1.75 million.
“These allegations are denied and will be vigorously contested,” MacDonald said in court yesterday. “He is not guilty of these offenses.”
A Bahraini government official, who declined to be identified citing agency policy, didn’t immediately comment when asked about the indictment.
Wells Fargo Withdraws From MBIA Restructuring Lawsuits
The San Francisco-based bank discontinued proceedings, according to stipulations filed yesterday in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan. Other banks, including UBS AG (UBS) and the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc (RBS), will continue legal action against MBIA, according to the documents. No explanation for the withdrawal was given.
A group of financial institutions sued MBIA in 2009, claiming the bond insurer’s restructuring, which was approved by New York’s insurance department, left MBIA undercapitalized and possibly unable to pay future claims.
The cases are ABN Amro Bank NV v. MBIA Inc., 601475-2009, and ABN Amro Bank NV v. Eric Dinallo, 601846-2009, New York state Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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H&R Block Can’t Proceed With TaxAct Maker Deal, Judge Rules
H&R Block Inc. (HRB) was barred by a federal judge from proceeding with its proposed $287.5 million acquisition of the maker of TaxAct products because it would diminish competition in the tax preparation market.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington yesterday supported a bid by the U.S. Justice Department to stop the deal. The department argued in a non-jury trial that the acquisition of closely held 2SS Holdings Inc. would cut competition by eliminating a company that vied aggressively with H&R Block and “disrupted” the digital do-it-yourself tax-preparation market with low prices and product innovation.
Howell granted a permanent injunction, saying the “evidence before the court, including documents and factual and expert testimony” showed the proposed purchase violated antitrust law. She ordered that her opinion remain temporarily sealed until the parties have a chance to redact confidential information.
The transaction would have left Kansas City, Missouri-based H&R Block and Intuit Inc. (INTU), whose TurboTax product is the most widely used digital and on-line software for tax preparation, as the two dominant companies in the market, the department said in its lawsuit. That could lead to higher prices and collusion, Joseph Wayland, the deputy head of the antitrust division said at the trial that began Sept. 6.
The case against H&R Block led to the department’s first trial in seven years seeking to stop a merger. The last time the Justice Department went to court with a merger case was in 2004 when it failed to stop Oracle Corp. (ORCL)’s $8.4 billion purchase of PeopleSoft Inc., according to the Justice Department.
“We are disappointed with the decision and continue to believe this was in the best interest of consumers,” Gene King, an H&R Block spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We are taking time to analyze the verdict to determine our immediate next steps.”
Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, “We’re very pleased with the court’s decision.”
The case is U.S. v. H&R Block, 1:11-cv-00948, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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Iceland Passes Last Hurdle in $11.4 Billion Depositor Payout
Iceland will start paying out as much as $11.4 billion in foreign depositor claims after the country’s top court upheld an emergency law that leaves bank bondholders in the lurch and protects ordinary account holders.
The decision by Iceland’s Supreme Court to rule in favor of a crisis bill enacted three years ago “marks the endpoint” to a dispute with the U.K. and the Netherlands triggered by the island’s 2008 financial collapse, Economy Minister Arni Pall Arnason said. The ruling will help repair relations with the two countries, whose depositors risked losing their savings when Iceland’s second-biggest bank collapsed, he said.
“It’s clear from these rulings that all depositors, regardless of nationality, residency, nature or amount of their deposit, will get their money back in full,” Arnason said in an interview in Reykjavik. Repayment may start within weeks, he said.
Iceland’s banks defaulted on $85 billion at the end of 2008, as the government ring-fenced lenders’ domestic operations in an effort to protect the $12 billion economy from total collapse. The local assets of Landsbanki Islands hf, Kaupthing Bank hf and Glitnir Bank hf were taken over by the state, which has since created new banks from the lenders. Bondholders, including Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, BNP Paribas (BNP) SA and Deutsche Bank AG, are still trying to recoup their funds.
The British Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which compensated U.K. Icesave depositors in full, will probably get its first payments “in a matter of weeks,” Arnason said. Dutch depositors, who had up to 100,000 euros in savings covered by their central bank, will be repaid in full once final “technicalities” are solved, he said. “This isn’t a question of months but rather weeks, as I understand it.”
While the court’s decision frees up funds to end the three- year depositor dispute, it may revive bondholder efforts to push their claims.
“Should any of the creditors of Landsbanki, Kaupthing or Glitnir decide to take the emergency legislation up with the European Court of Human Rights, that’s simply something we’ll deal with when the time comes,” Arnason said. “It will be very difficult for the creditors to bring credible claims before the European Court of Human Rights.”
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BTA Bank Wins Jail Term for British Man in Ablyazov Fraud Case
A British man in Cyprus who’s accused of helping former BTA Bank Chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov steal $290 million from the Kazakh lender was sentenced to 21 months in a U.K. prison for contempt of court.
Paul Kythreotis, 44, lied in testimony and failed to turn over documents related his role in the alleged fraud, the Court of Appeal in London ruled Oct. 28. Kythreotis, who wasn’t in court and hasn’t been arrested, said he had to lie because of threats from other defendants, according to the ruling.
“Kythreotis admitted that his earlier evidence had been false” and “that he had an ‘enormous’ e-mail archive, which he had not previously disclosed,” a panel of three judges wrote. The lies related to Kythreotis’s role as nominee for British Virgin Islands-based companies used in the alleged fraud.
BTA, which defaulted on $12 billion of debt before restructuring last year, filed a series of U.K. cases against Ablyazov and ex-Chief Executive Officer Roman Solodchenko over claims they siphoned money using fake loans. The lender says litigation against the men, seeking about $5 billion so far, will benefit Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Barclays Plc (BARC), Commerzbank AG (CBK) and other creditors that financed its rapid growth before the global credit crisis.
An e-mail to Kythreotis wasn’t returned and a call to his phone in Cyprus wasn’t answered. Kythreotis has denied the allegations and said he wasn’t aware of the alleged fraud.
A London court last year froze $68.3 million of Kythreotis’s assets, while BTA said new evidence was uncovered through raids of an office and home in Cyprus and a storage facility in London.
The case is JSC BTA Bank v. Solodchenko, A3/2010/2730, Court of Appeal (London).
Rajaratnam Prison Surrender Date Extended a Week to Dec. 5
Raj Rajaratnam, the hedge fund manager sentenced to 11 years for insider trading, will report to prison on Dec. 5, a week later than the previous date.
Rajaratnam, 54, will report to the federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina. The surrender date was extended from Nov. 28, U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell said in a filing yesterday in federal court in Manhattan.
Holwell said last month that he sentenced Rajaratnam to the medical prison because of conditions that include diabetes. No reason for the extension was given in yesterday’s filing.
The case is U.S. v. Rajaratnam, 09-01184, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Former Bank of Italy Governor Sentenced for Failed Takeover
Former Bank of Italy Governor Antonio Fazio and ex-Unipol Gruppo Finanziario SpA (UNI) Chairman Giovanni Consorte were sentenced to more than three years in jail for their involvement in a failed takeover of lender Banca Nazionale del Lavoro SpA.
Fazio was sentenced to three years and six months by a Milan court yesterday, while Consorte was sentenced to three years and 10 months, lawyers for the two said in telephone interviews.
“We are disappointed about the verdict, which we consider unfair,” said Franco Coppi, a member of Fazio’s defense team. Consorte’s lawyer, Filippo Sgubbi, said he was “bitterly surprised” and would appeal.
Prosecutors said Fazio acted improperly in helping Bologna- based Unipol, Italy’s third-biggest insurer, gather stock in its $6.1 billion bid for BNL. The Bank of Italy in 2006 blocked the bid amid a probe of the acquisition. That same year BNL was taken over by French lender BNP Paribas SA.
Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA), a Spanish lender and a rival bidder, was awarded 15 million euros ($21 million) in damages, newswire Ansa reported, citing the court. Unipol was given a 720,000-euro fine, Ansa said. Unipol didn’t respond to three phone calls from Bloomberg News seeking comment.
Deutsche Bank AG managers, who had also been investigated, were cleared by the court. “No market manipulation was found,” the German bank said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
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