Bankrupt takes fight to Coopers

THE former head of a Bermuda-based insurance company that went into liquidation four years ago is stepping up his campaign against accountants Coopers & Lybrand, which made him personally bankrupt to the tune of dollars 19m ( pounds 12.6m).

Mark Hardy, from Sudbury in Suffolk, is a former director of Focus Insurance and held a controlling interest in the reinsurance company until liquidators from Coopers were appointed to wind it up in September 1990.

Since then, Mr Hardy has waged a legal battle with the accountancy firm both to unfreeze his assets and to challenge the firm's activities in other, unconnected, areas.

'There have been loads of actions from both sides,' said Mr Hardy. 'I will go on fighting Coopers tooth and nail.'

As part of his campaign, on Wednesday Mr Hardy will attempt to persuade a creditors meeting for Kwelm, a large reinsurance company in liquidation, to remove the two Coopers liquidators, Chris Hughes and Ian Bond.

Mr Hardy made his presence felt at the last annual general meeting of British Telecommunications, when he attempted unsuccessfully to challenge Coopers' routine re- election as auditors.

He has based several of his arguments on suggestions that Coopers' partnership structure is technically flawed, a charge that has been rejected by the accountancy profession's regulatory body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

Coopers is refusing to comment publicly on the affair - the firm considers that any publicity for Mr Hardy gives him an unjustified credibility. The firm is using the top City lawyers, Herbert Smith, to combat Mr Hardy's claims, and privately admits that he is a highly intelligent individual. Coopers is also using its long-time public relations adviser, Lowe Bell Financial, to present its case to the media.

The firm views Mr Hardy's activities as a sophisticated nuisance campaign designed to change the course of the Focus liquidation in Bermuda, which is being carried out by a separate, Bermudan division of Coopers. Up to dollars 100m worth of disputed assets are said to be involved in the liquidation.

Mr Hardy himself says that losing his company and his subsequent bankruptcy sparked off his legal activities, and that now other more fundamental issues are at stake.

The whole saga could be ended, he suggests, if there were to be a court trial to decide the merits of a case the Focus liquidators brought, accusing him of failing in his fiduciary duties. This case, he says, eventually led to his being declared bankrupt by Colchester County Court last year.

(Photograph omitted)