Credit Suisse case winding down
Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) was described as having “no role of substance”.
That description came during the closing arguments of a case that has pitted a post-Soviet era oligarch and former Prime Minister of Georgia against the banking giant’s Bermuda offshoot.
Lawyer Joe Smouha, QC, who is representing the former leader of the Caucasus nation, Bidzina Ivanishvili, described the life insurance company as a “wrapper product” used for “wrapping investments”.
It is the fifth, and likely final, week of the case, which is being conducted remotely with witnesses testifying from different cities that include London and European sites, live streaming before Bermuda’s Chief Justice, Narinder Hargun.
The case involves two unit-linked life insurance policies Credit Suisse Life created for Mr Ivanishvili, a billionaire and one of the world’s richest men according to Forbes.
Unit-linked policies are a structure which combine insurance policies with investment accounts which may be actively traded.
Assets can be withdrawn, or surrendered, from an account if so desired by an authorised party. Because tax is not payable on insurance policy premiums, the structure has tax benefits for the policy holder.
In 2015 Mr Ivanishvili received a $400 million call for leveraged shares in a drug development company, Raptor Pharmaceuticals. The shares were held largely in the Georgian leader’s Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) policy accounts.
He has denied authorising certain activities involving his policy portfolios and is suing the insurance company for the money.
The billionaire’s main point of contact at the Credit Suisse group was a man who admitted engaging in fraudulent behaviour for years. Patrice Lescaudron was subsequently convicted of multiple crimes and imprisoned.
Despite the minimal amount of activity in the Bermuda office, the lawyer noted that CS Life (Bermuda) held $14 billion in assets. “Of course, that wrapper image is very double edged for CS Life because it also describes an interposition — a crucial interposition — between the client and the bank,” Mr Smouha said
Nearly all functions of Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) were outsourced to the Credit Suisse group, he said, and quoted a governance document dated 2010 that showed the company was in line with the Bermuda Monetary Authority code of conduct.
Insurance company functions including compliance, legal, internal audit and actuarial were embedded in the Credit Suisse group structure, Mr Smouha said. Board members included Credit Suisse executives responsible for these tasks throughout the group.
Former chief executive officer of Credit Suisse Life (Bermuda) Tom Coffey had testified that there would be difficulties and restrictions in obtaining information from the Credit Suisse group divisions to whom these roles had been outsourced, “but as this document makes clear he had full access to all the information he required”, Mr Smouha said.
Later during the hearing, the Chief Justice told Mr Smouha that the view of the case he is presenting is “ much more substance-based than has been put forward by CS Life. "It has all these functions … not being carried out by the company itself, but by the group.”
Closing arguments continue today.