Brokers open fire in High Court battle

BGC PARTNERS offered well over &pound;40m to key broking staff at fellow inter-dealer broker Tullett Prebon as part of a &ldquo;carefully constructed raid&rdquo;, a court heard yesterday on the opening day of a long-anticipated legal case between the two firms.<br /><br />Tullett, headed by City veteran Terry Smith, has accused its arch-rival of conspiring to poach at least 55 staff in a bid to destabilise its London business, after BGC hired Tony Verrier, Tullett&rsquo;s former chief operating officer, in January this year.<br /><br />In his opening remarks to the court yesterday, Daniel Oudkerk QC, a barrister at 11KBW acting on behalf of Tullett, said BGC had orchestrated the campaign using Tullett&rsquo;s own desk heads, which he said constituted a &ldquo;gross breach of contract&rdquo;.<br /><br />He added that the company had used forward contracts, sign-on benefits and &ldquo;a construct of constructive dismissal&rdquo; to lure the brokers.<br /><br />Oudkerk claimed that BGC and its president Shaun Lynn offered over &pound;40m in total to the brokers targeted and that it paid almost &pound;2m to the heads of some of Tullett&rsquo;s desks by way of sign-on payments alone. James Bowditch, head of the short term sterling derivatives desk, is said to have received a &ldquo;golden handshake&rdquo; of &pound;1.1m, while James Hall, the head of the forward cable desk, is said to have been given &pound;750,000 up front.<br /><br />The plaintiffs produced evidence from over 45,000 text messages and phone calls between Lynn, Verrier and the other defendants, which they said were used &ldquo;to coordinate the poaching operations&rdquo;. They told the court that the defendants had sought to &ldquo;cover their tracks&rdquo; by using phones and BlackBerrys which were then deliberately mislaid or discarded.<br /><br />A BGC spokeswoman said: &ldquo;BGC Partners continues to expand geographically, enter new product areas and increase its broker headcount. This means the firm is consistently sought out by some of the marketplace&rsquo;s most experienced brokers, and continues to attract top talent. As such we fully contest these allegations.&rdquo;<br /><br />Barristers for the defendants, including Littleton Chambers&rsquo; Andrew Clarke QC, will be presenting their opening statements to court tomorrow. The case continues.