Credit Suisse case: billionaire ex-PM of Georgia may testify
The former prime minister of the Caucasus country of Georgia may be called to give evidence as early as this morning in a case being heard in Bermuda’s Commercial Courts.
The case, before Chief Justice Narinder Hargun, is being conducted virtually via video conferencing so it is unlikely that the nation’s former leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is physically in Bermuda.
The former prime minister and other plaintiffs have brought two claims, which are being heard together, against Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda).
The Bermuda-based entity offered a product called a unit-linked life insurance policy, which provides both insurance and investments. The claims are in respect to losses by two of the unit-linked life insurance policies.
Bloomberg reported that the former prime minister had invested approximately $755 million in these Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) products.
Mr Ivanishvili was Prime Minister of the former Soviet republic of Georgia from 2012 to 2013 and made his fortune after the dissolution of the USSR.
SWI, the international unit of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, reported that the former leader of the Caucasus nation, who is suing the Bermuda-based company along with five other individual petitioners and two corporate entities, said that Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) should have prevented a Credit Suisse Group (CSGN) banker from losing $400 million of his estimated $6 billion fortune.
Mr Ivanishvili, along with Meadowsweet Assets Limited and Sandcay Investments Limited, have brought one of two cases, while the second includes additional petitioners — Mrs Ekaterine Khvedelidze, Tsotne Ivanishvili, who is an infant and is represented by his mother and next friend Mrs Ekaterine Khvedelidze, Ms Gvantsa Ivanishvili and Mr Bera Ivanishvili. The plaintiffs in the cases are both policyholders and beneficiaries of the policies.
It will not be Mr Ivanishvili’s first action against the Bermuda Credit Suisse unit.
SWI reported that the former prime minister sued the entity four years ago for “failing to ensure prudent investment of his fortune”.
Business and financial data media company Bloomberg, reporting on the background on the case, said that the banker, Frenchman Patrice Lescaudron, was exposed as a fraudster after he leveraged positions on shares in a pharmaceutical company called Raptor Pharmaceutical Corp.
He advised his clients to buy shares in the company but admitted that he went beyond the amounts authorised by them and bought millions of additional shares on credit without permission from the clients. The former prime minister and other clients became among the largest holders of the stock.
When Raptor shares experienced a serious decline in value of 37 per cent after trials for a new drug in development failed, the former Georgian leader received demands for payment for the stock, in one case for $128 million.
The development, which took place in 2015, put Lescaudron under his employers’ scrutiny and their investigations revealed that he had been engaging in fraudulent activity for more than ten years.
The Financial Times reported that his activities had funded a “lavish lifestyle” of “luxury houses, sports cars, Rolex watches and gifts of Chanel jewellery”.
It emerged that Lescaudron had defrauded clients described as some of the Swiss bank’s “most sensitive”, including Russian oligarch Vitaly Malkin, as well as Mr Ivanishvili.
The bank itself called in authorities, and in 2019 Lescaudron was convicted of fraud and forgery and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released after a year because of ill health and died by suicide shortly afterwards.
The plaintiffs argue that once Lescaudron’s activities were detected, the Bermuda-based insurer should have acted to protect his clients’ assets.
The case began on Monday when lawyer Joe Smouha, representing the petitioners, reportedly opened arguments proposing that more Credit Suisse staff be called to give evidence.
He said that the court could not conclude that nothing was wrong without hearing from other bank staff and the rogue banker’s section chief.
Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) lawyer Stephen Moverley Smith QC, responding to the plaintiffs’ lawyer’s opening statement, told Chief Justice Hargun that the investments in the unit-linked life insurance policies were not selected by the Bermuda-based entity.
He added that Credit Suisse was simply providing a product and was not supervising the underlying investment.
Mr Moverley Smith criticised the plaintiffs’ lawyer, describing the allegations as “fire and fury … and disappointment.”
He said that allegations of fraud should be distinctly alleged and particularised but claimed that particulars were lacking from the pleading.
The defendants are also arguing that the plaintiffs have run out of time to bring their case, a point on which the Chief Justice may make an early judgment.
A decision in February by the Chief Justice to grant an application made by the plaintiff for specific discovery, ordering Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) to provide documents to the defendant that included reports compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Switzerland’s banking regulator into the crimes committed by Lescauldron made international headlines when the Chief Justice overrode decisions made in Switzerland and UK courts to keep the reports private, and instead allowed them into evidence.
The trial continues this morning and is expected to last more than a month.