Tycoon paid bank fraudster $1 million in ‘gratitude’
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire and former prime minister of Georgia, gifted $1 million to rogue Credit Suisse banker Patrice Lescaudron — a man who defrauded his clients for a decade and later was imprisoned for his crimes.
The disclosure was made during a legal case being heard in Bermuda’s courts involving claims by Georgia’s former leader and other plaintiffs against Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) for losses of hundreds of millions of dollars suffered by assets in two unit-linked life insurance policies, a tax-saving vehicle that provides for both insurance and investments.
Bloomberg has reported that Mr Ivanishvili had invested approximately $755 million in the Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) products.
He lost an estimated $400 million when a large position in Raptor Pharmaceutical Corp, held in the vehicles, declined in value.
Despite the loss, Forbes reports that Mr Ivanishvili’s wealth is $4.8 billion, making him Georgia’s richest man and the 589th richest person in the world.
He is known for his billion-dollar art collection and a 100,000sq ft futuristic home, dubbed by The New York Times as a “Glassle” that overlooks the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. In 2012 his wealth was at its height and reported to be $6.4 billion.
Lawyer Stephen Moverley Smith, QC, acting for Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda), made the disclosures about the $1 million of financial gifts in court yesterday. He spent a second day interrogating Mr Ivanishvili about the level of his involvement in financial decisions made for the large tranche of his fortune held by the bank.
Mr Ivanishvili told Chief Justice Narinder Hargun that $250,000 payments made annually from 2008 to 2011 were meant as bonuses, expressing his gratitude to Lescauldron for his work.
He said he expected that Lescaudron would share them with bank colleagues who had also been involved in looking after his assets.
Mr Ivanishvili, who testified remotely and spoke through a rotating team of interpreters, denied that he made decisions about the investment of his funds or how his wealth was held, saying that he implicitly trusted Credit Suisse to look after his assets on his behalf and would follow the bank’s advice so that it could maintain the value of his capital, which were his instructions.
Answering questions about the payments to Lescaudron, he acknowledged that he had paid the disgraced investment banker the four tranches of $250,000 from 2008 to 2011.
Queried about his description of the nature of the transfers as gifts, Mr Ivanishvili said that he had already acknowledged making the payments in a previous court case. “I do not deny this,” he said.
He stated that he was acting on the advice of his business partner, Vitaly Malkin, whom he described as more experienced than himself in matters like this.
When Mr Moverley Smith asked the former leader why he thought that the payments to Lescaudron were appropriate, the leader described it as “a kind of a gratitude” and added that they were not only for Lescaudron but for the Credit Suisse employees who were also involved in managing his assets.
“For me, Mr Lescaudron represented Credit Suisse,” Mr Ivanishvili said, adding that he did not see the payments as a personal gift.
The lawyer queried the notion of bonuses given to bank employees without the bank’s knowledge.
“I believed the whole bank was involved in the management of my assets and I believed Mr Lescaudron would share [with his colleagues],” Mr Ivanishvili said. “That was normal practice — when I was prime minister I would be given gifts. Of course, you cannot refuse gifts — you put it into a register.”
Mr Ivanishvili said that he was “open” about his gratitude and was content with the way Credit Suisse was dealing with his assets.
However, Mr Moverley Smith suggested that the money was in fact in payment for advice Lescaudron gave to the former prime minister outside his role at Credit Suisse.
Mr Ivanishvili acknowledged that shares in Raptor had also been purchased for his own Cartu Bank and that he had discussed them with the disgraced banker.
Mr Ivanishili said that he had also been involved when Credit Suisse set up the new Bermuda-based financial structures to accommodate his wish to pass on his capital to his children.
“[Credit Suisse] had offered me a new structure to accomplish this.”
Mr Ivanishvili said that it was only in the case of setting up new structures and purchasing the large position of shares in Raptor that he was involved in the management of his assets.
The hearings continue.