Investment Firm Runs into Three-Card Monte in Indonesia
|Our Correspondent||Dec 12, 2015|
After a record 562 ignored legal summons served on Nobuyoshi Fujisawa, the chief executive officer and controlling shareholder of J Trust Ltd. and on J Trust, a Tokyo-based firm that now controls the remains of the ill-starred Indonesian Bank Century, the process server finally taped them to the front door of Fujisawa’s Singapore residence.
The notice of summons still hasn’t been answered, according to a spokesman for Weston International Capital Subsidiaries, which is seeking to reclaim US$120 million allegedly owed by JTrust to Weston, a close end investment company that collects on distressed assets for banks, institutions and other unsuspecting and defrauded creditors.. Attempts to contact J Trust have included letters, emails, FedEx, DHL, fax and personal deliveries, Weston says.
Weston has been frustrated since 2011 in the attempt to find the remains of US$725 million it took over from the Netherlands-based bank ING. Weston has chased the money from Japan to Singapore to Switzerland to Cyprus and to a number of other unknown countries, to no avail after winning a judgment in Mauritius, the home of the hedge fund’s asset-reclamation subsidiary. It is now suing in Singapore, hence the legal summons.
The investment company alleges the Bank Century debt it bought has repeatedly disappeared into companies spread across the world, even after Weston has won court judgments that should tie up the funds via so-called Mareva injunctions, which freeze assets owed after the judgments. Despite Mareva injunctions in London and New York, the funds disappear.
"J Trust Co. Ltd is a publicly listed company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and has already lied to receiving 562 different forms of service and therefore it has violated Tokyo Stock Exchange requirements for not disclosing material events on a timely basis to the Tokyo Stock Exchange and their common stock holder," said John Liegey,Weston's managing director. "In fact, their Singaporean lawyers, TSMP, accepted service on Nov. 27, 2015 being 7 days before their public disclosure dated December 4, 2015
To say J Trust’s Indonesian unit has been uncooperative is an understatement. Weston has been trying unsuccessfully to find out for months what entities own Bank JTrust, the Indonesian entity. On Dec. 4, J Trust issued a statement saying it had learned about Weston’s attempts to bring it to court through the media and that it didn’t know the process servers were going to all that work.
J Trust, according to its press release, believes “the underlying claims made by the Weston Entities in the Mauritius Judgment are unfounded, and in addition…the Mauritius Judgment should not be effective in any countries where the company has assets.” On July 22, Bank JTrust Indonesia also said it “does not recognize the existence of any obligations referred to in the Mauritius Judgment and is of the view that the Mauritius judgment has no legal effect on Bank JTrust Indonesia.”
PT Bank Century TBK capsized in 2008 in what at that time was one of Indonesia’s bigger financial scandals, forcing the government to pour US$710 million into the bank out of fears that its collapse imperiled the entire domestic financial system. Most of that money also disappeared overseas. Subsequently the bank was taken over by the government and renamed Bank Mutiara and its beneficial owner, Robert Tantular, was sentenced to nine years in prison, which was recently increased to 10 years on money laundering and fraud charges.
Weston – which did six months of due diligence before taking over the collection process on two Bank Century convertible bonds underwritten by the London-based Nomura International Plc plus over US$700 million of Nomura debt obligations – has learned that six months of due diligence in Indonesia, given the shape-shifting politics and governance of the financial system, were probably not enough.
“We looked at the portfolio and determined there were two Bank Century Convertible bonds we knew we could collect on, totaling US$80 million of defaulted debt,” Liegey said in an earlier interview. “But when we started unfolding the extent of the Bank Century fraud, it was beyond anything I have ever seen in 38 years in this business.”
Weston did succeed in collecting over US$10 million cash and the rest in convertible bonds notes and Nomura-issued fund linked notes bringing the total to US$725 million in the Hong Kong courts in 2013. The disposition of the securities is still being negotiated.
Weston and its wholly owned subsidiary, First Glotbal Funds Ltd., believe much of the money still to be collected is still in the Tantular’s hands. Although the former Bank Century beneficial owner went to jail in 2008 and remains in prison today – Indonesian prisons tend to be porous and well-wired inmates often are able to take extended leave. Tantular is said to be seen regularly in Mauritus, where he continues to have business interests.
Earlier this year, Bank Mutiara was acquired by J Trust Co., Ltd for an enormous price – Rp441 trillion (US$368 million) for a bankrupt bank in an auction process with no bidders, raising suspicions it bought a lucrative cash pile that it wasn’t going to hand to anyone, including Weston International Capital. Weston is suing J Trust as well as the former Bank Mutiara, alleging that J Trust and PT Bank J Trust Indonesia TBK defaulted on US$80 million in convertible bonds, US$21.5 million in bank deposits and US$14.25 million of other liabilities totaling US$115.75 million which disappeared from Bank J Trust correspondent bank accounts despite a court order freezing accounts to keep the money from being moved overseas.
According to Weston, despite the long string of court orders and legal notifications, J Trust gave instructions to TSMP Law Corporation (the motto on their website: “Boardroom Gladiators”) not to accept service of process from WICL subsidiaries, claiming the Singapore case was an attempt to collect the US$115 million Mauritius judgment, that the Mauritius judgment was unfounded, and that it shouldn’t be effective in any countries where J Trust has assets.
Weston says the Singaporean litigation is new, that it is a claim for defaulted debt under the Common Law of Singapore and merely refers to the Mauritian Judgments as verification of the underlying defaulted debts on Bank JTrust’s books guaranteed by J Trust.
In the meantime, the money that Weston is trying to claim is starting to resemble a game of Three-card Monte a game invented in the 15th Century, in which the mark is tricked into betting on the assumption he or she can find the money card among three face-down playing cards. Usually, via sleight of hand, the money card is in the dealer’s pocket, soon followed by the mark’s money.
*Story corrected on Dec. 12, 2015 to reflect several misinterpretations.