Credit Suisse client's losses climb to US$607m in fraud

BIDZINA IVANISHVILI, the Georgian billionaire suing a unit of Credit Suisse Group over a fraud scheme run by one of its ex-bankers, lost about US$607 million in the case, according to a new estimate of his losses that's nearly 10 per cent higher than a previous figure in a March ruling.

The new amount was cited during a hearing on Tuesday (Jun 21) overseen by Bermuda Supreme Court chief justice Narinder Hargun after he told forensic accountants in March on both sides of the case to go away and come up with a more accurate assessment of Ivanishvili's losses. Hargun put the losses at US$553 million 3 months ago.

At the time, the judge criticised Credit Suisse Life, saying the bank's life insurance unit had turned a "blind eye" to convicted fraudster Patrice Lescaudron's wrongdoing. The Frenchman, who was convicted in 2018, was a lone wolf who hid his fraudulent activity, according to the bank.

Jonathan Crow, a lawyer for Credit Suisse (CS) Life (Bermuda), opened the hearing by saying he didn't dispute Hargun's ruling and that he acknowledged the revised figure of US$607 million.

Crow instead sought to narrow the scope of where the compensation might come from. Bermuda passed legislation in 2000 to create entities called segregated accounts companies, or SACs, which allow for the legal split of assets and liabilities into separate accounts.

"We fought the action and we lost" and are not seeking to set aside the liability, said Crow. But compensation "is to be met and met only from the assets in the segregated accounts", set up for Ivanishvili, he said. CS Life Bermuda has already appealed the verdict.

Joe Smouha, Ivanishvili's lawyer, countered that such an argument didn't make sense and that CS Life was in essence arguing that the liability should be repaid from "the plaintiff's own assets". The law was never intended to give such companies "presumptive immunity", he said.

"To raise the issue at this stage, post-judgment, is an abuse of process," said Smouha.

Hargun said at the end of Tuesday's hearing that he would issue his ruling on the US$607 million agreed by the accountants, as well as the various arguments made about the segregated accounts versus CS Life's responsibility, at a later date.

'Waste of time'

He gave a possible hint of what direction he was headed when he interrupted Crow mid-sentence to challenge his argument.

Hargun said it "seems a complete waste of time" that during the trial participants spent many hours trying to assess what the losses were if CS Life would not be held liable. "What is the point of all that if the money was simply going to come out of the segregated accounts," he asked.

The Bermuda trial was seen as a test of whether the bank might be insulated from future liability in cases pending elsewhere in Switzerland. A Geneva prosecutor earlier this month told bank representatives that he thought it had let more than US$60 million be laundered by Lescaudron, paving the way for what would be a historic indictment for money laundering of the bank itself.

Credit Suisse already added 600 million Swiss francs (S$860 million) in legal provisions, some of which was related to the Bermuda case, in the first quarter of this year and flagged the possibility of more legal hits as it works through a backlog of legacy cases and prepares for new ones.

Credit Suisse declined to comment on whether any further provisions would be required because of the higher figure for losses. BLOOMBERG

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