Mayfair tycoons: We will clear our name

Steve Dinneen
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THE Tchenguiz brothers were held for questioning for over 12 hours by the Serious Fraud Office yesterday after being arrested in connection with the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing.

Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz were among seven men arrested in a series of dawn raids across London.

The brothers were both released without charge last night and were free to travel, their spokesman said.

Robert Tchenguiz had debts with Kaupthing totalling more than £2bn. His credit line was extended after the onset of the recession, despite his portfolio of investments beginning to turn sour. Minutes from the bank show that some of the lending was used to finance debt owed to other lenders.

He famously lost almost £1bn in just a few days in 2008 when his stakes in firms including J Sainsbury and Mitchells & Butlers – which had already lost hundreds of millions in value – were seized to help pay the debts. Other assets seized include proceeds from the 2009 sale of Somerfield, the privately owned pub-chain behind Yates’s and Slug and Lettuce and restaurant group La Tasca.

Vincent has launched a £600m claim against Kaupthing’s liquidators, after effectively forfeiting shares in a string of companies. He pledged the firms as collateral on his brother’s spiralling debt with the bank.

Kaupthing has been criticised for its close relationship with Robert, who owned 1.5 per cent of the bank outright and was also a director and shareholder in Exista, which was Kaupthing’s largest investor.

It is understood Armann Thorvaldsson, former head of Kaupthing’s UK business and Sigurdur Einarsson, who was Kaupthing’s London-based executive chairman and chief executive, are also among those who have been arrested.

Tchenguiz’s offices in central London were searched as part of the investigation, which involved 135 City of London police and SFO officers.

Two men were also arrested in Iceland as part of the probe, which has been running since 2009.

A statement by the brothers said: “We were arrested earlier this morning and are being questioned with regard to matters relating to our relationship with Kaupthing Bank. Both of us are cooperating fully with the investigation and are confident that, once concluded, we will be cleared of any allegation of wrongdoing.”

Robert Tchenguiz was a Tory party donor, handing over £53,620 through his R20 firm.