Bank bosses unaware of their own high-risk investments
Top staff at Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) had no idea a $400 million call in respect of leveraged shares in a drug development company – a high-risk category of assets – had been made, even though it emerged this week that the company they were leading was the legal owner of at least part of the position.
The revelation was made yesterday by Cecilia Homann, head of product management life insurance with Credit Suisse Life. She was testifying remotely before Bermuda’s Chief Justice Narinder Hargun.
Cross examined by Joe Smouha QC, for the Georgian former leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, about the complex structures the bank offered their clients she explained the life insurance policies, which were developed and used by the bank’s trust team and advisers, offered wealth and succession planning benefits.
It was put to her that when the premium was paid: “ … the ownership of the money changed.”
“Yes,” she said. “The ownership was with Credit Suisse Life.”
She also said: “The bank account would be opened in Credit Suisse Life’s name. The assets would be in CS Life accounts with the bank. Then the bank would manage the assets on a discretionary or non-discretionary basis as agreed with the clients.”
Mr Ivanishvili, an oligarch and the former Prime Minister of the Caucasus nation of Georgia, received the $400 million call for payment for shares in Raptor Pharmaceuticals in 2015.
The billionaire told the court last week that it came as a shock, and he has vehemently denied authorising such a large transaction.
He and other plaintiffs are suing Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda).
Mr Ivanishvili placed a significant part of his multi-billion-dollar fortune in two Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) unit-linked life insurance policies’ investment portfolios in 2011 and 2012.
The former Prime Minister of Georgia’s main point of contact at Credit Suisse was Frenchman Patrice Lescaudron, the rogue banker who admitted misdeeds in respect of a portion of the purchase of the Raptor Pharmaceuticals shareholding, which had been partly financed using a credit strategy.
The banker was convicted, incarcerated, and then last year – having been released from prison because of ill health – committed suicide.
Ms Homann also testified yesterday about the suite of authorisations available to the policy holders, repeatedly noting that clients should have been aware whether or not they held the mandate to trade for their own account.
But Mr Smouha’s demonstrated it was not precisely stated on signed documents.
The QC asked Ms Homann about the then Credit Suisse code of conduct.
“Presumably there has always been a code of conduct with different iterations over the years,” he said.
He quoted from the document: “Trust is the bedrock of the banking system,” and it urged employees to be honest and transparent, although those qualities are “not always easy …”.
It also instructed employees that it “ … takes courage to tell the truth,” and stated that “ … in the past where employees have not acted in compliance with our code” it had negatively impacted the bank’s shareholders.
“What matters in the past is that referring to?’ asked the lawyer. Ms Homann responded that she did not know how widely known the Lescaudron incident had been.
The code of conduct directs employees to be alert for fraud, and if suspicious, to execute no trades, send no e-mail to the client, but report suspicions to the line manager and business risk manager.
Credit Suisse Trust CEO Nicholas Vaccoro, under cross examination by Louise Hutton QC on Wednesday, stated Credit Suisse Life would not identify if a trade had been authorised by a client, because that function was delegated to the client or to Credit Suisse, itself. He said the Bermuda-based life insurance company would have “no means of knowing” if a trade for its own accounts had been authorised or not.
He admitted that Credit Suisse Life had not investigated the transaction made by the former Georgian leader’s disgraced relationship manager with the bank, after the 2015 margin call. He also said that neither had the Bermuda-based company informed the client of the call.
Examined by Ms Hutton, he said: “No one would have contacted the client.” It was not the “ … purpose of the contract” between the client and Credit Suisse Life, adding that if the company had been aware of transactions made without the consent of the client, they would have “escalated” the matter to the compliance department.
He stated: “The RM (relationship manager) would have been in charge of the relationship with the client.”
He agreed with Ms Hutton that seven cases of misconduct by Lescaudron were identified by Credit Suisse’s own internal security and compliance teams at around the time, in 2011 and 2012, that the former Prime Minister’s policies were being put in place with the Bermuda-based company.
Later, he admitted that the concentration of Raptor shares in Mr Ivanishvili’s policy accounts was high – in one of the accounts, the assets were made up of more than 35 per cent of stock in the company, while in another the level was 75 per cent.
“That is an extraordinary concentration,” Ms Hutton put to the witness.
“It’s a big concentration, I agree,” he responded.
The case continues.