Copper scandal sparks legal row

The opening volleys are being fired in what is likely to be a fierce legal battle over the responsibility for the pounds 1.2bn trading losses suffered by Sumitomo Corporation at the hands of its former copper trader, Yasuo Hamanaka.

The pressure on Sumitomo's senior management increased yesterday amid reports that lawyers in Japan and the United States are preparing to sue the corporation for losses connected with the Hamanaka debacle. It also emerged that Serious Fraud Office investigators intend to travel to Japan as early as next week to continue investigation of Sumitomo and Mr Hamanaka.

The SFO said as far as it was aware Mr Hamanaka was not in the UK, despite talk that he had come to London. The rogue trader has not been seen since he was fired by Sumitomo last week when he admitted concealing huge losses going back 10 years.

Hideto Iida, a lawyer who acted against Daiwa Bank, after a similar rogue trading case last year, told a Japanese newspaper on Thursday that a group of Sumitomo shareholders will demand compensation for the pounds 1.2bn losses.

According to Kyodo news agency, a New York copper trader, Vincent Zuccarelli, has also filed a suit with the Manhattan District Court demanding compensation for huge losses allegedly caused by Mr Hamanaka's manipulation of the copper market. Mr Zuccarelli is reported to be considering a class action against companies alleged to have collaborated with Sumitomo.

Yesterday senior Sumitomo officials admitted for the first time that they are contemplating a law suit against Mr Hamanaka for breach of trust.

Mr Hamanaka's legal position within Japan is ambiguous. Despite being based in Tokyo, he conducted his trades overseas, and is not accused of any crime which can be prosecuted domestically. His alleged activities appear outside the jurisdiction of any of the Japanese authorities, the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, or Bank of Japan.

"Word around the camp fire is that he's made a permanent exit," an employee of big Japanese trading house said. "He's probably in the Caribbean as we speak, with a pina colada in his hand, and a dolly bird on each knee, sticking two fingers up at corporate Japan.''

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