Lawyers for property mogul Robert Tchenguiz today accused audit firm Grant Thornton of conspiring to persuade the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to launch an investigation into his business dealings with the Icelandic bank Kaupthing.
The flamboyant millionaire was in a packed London courtroom to hear his Queen’s Counsel Stephen Rubin of Fountain Court accuse the accountancy firm, two of its partners and former Kaupthing lawyer Johannes Runar Johannsson of conspiring to use the SFO’s criminal investigation “as a weapon” against him.
Robert Tchenguiz was arrested alongside his brother Vincent by the City of London police in 2011 as part of an SFO investigation into the collapse of Kaupthing in 2008.
His lawyer said Robert Tchenguiz, 58, was “brought low” by the arrest and now faces the loss of the £20m mansion he shares in Kensington with his 27-year old Polish girlfriend, his ex-wife and their two children.
His lawyer alleges the arrest was stimulated by Johannsson, Grant Thornton which was acting as the bank’s liquidator and Grant Thornton partners Stephen Akers and Hossein Hamedan.
There were “13 specific allegations made by Grant Thornton to the SFO,” Rubin said, claiming they were “all false”.
“The plan was to nail R20,” Rubin said, which was the name of one of Robert Tchenguiz’s business.
“The defendants conspired to deceive the SFO,” Rubin said, “To injure him, his businesses and the trusts” which he is a beneficiary of.
The claimants said that Grant Thornton’s accusations were shared with the Icelandic prosecutor which then shared the information with the SFO.
Grant Thornton later provided information directly to the SFO and held 17 face-to-face or telephone meetings with the agency, Rubin said.
Rubin said the SFO swallowed the alleged conspiracy “hook, line and sinker.”
He said the motive for the alleged conspiracy was maximising returns for the bank from Robert Tchenguiz and his family trust which owed more than £1bn to the bank at the time of its collapse.
A spokesperson for Grant Thornton said: “The claim is an abuse of process. The allegations against three experienced and well-respected individuals have been invented, are not supported by any evidence and are bound to fail.”
Lawyers for Johannsonn at Travers Smith said the claims were “ill-conceived and baseless”.
“It is astonishing that Robert Tchenguiz and his advisers have chosen to pursue these claims when their case theory is so absurd and fundamentally flawed,” they added.
The SFO investigation into the Tchenguiz brothers collapsed in 2012 due to insufficient evidence and in 2014 the pair were paid £4.5m in damages by the SFO and received an apology from its then director.
The case continues.
Legal line up
For the claimants
Solicitors - Debevoise & Plimpton – partner Kevin Lloyd
Counsel – Stephen Rubin QC, Charles Bear QC, Richard Power and Ian Bergson all of Fountain Court
For the Grant Thornton defendants
Solicitors – Simmons & Simmons – partner Ian Hammond
Counsel –Adrian Beltrami QC of 3 Verulam Buildings, James MacDonald of One Essex Court, Andrew McIntyre of Brick Court Chambers and Anthony Pavlovich of 3 Verulam Buildings
For Johannes Johannsson
Solicitors – Travers Smith – partners Huw Jenkin and Stephen Paget-Brown
Counsel – David Railton QC, Andrew Mitchell QC, both of Fountain Court, and Tom Gentleman and Nienke van den Berg , both of 4 Stone Buildings
For the BVI defendants
Solicitors – Simmons & Simmons – partner Paul Baker
Counsel –David Allison QC and Henry Phillips both of South Square.