Who's suing whom: Deloitte gets Barings writ

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The Independent Online
THE LIQUIDATORS of a small but vital part of the old Barings merchant bank have issued a writ against its auditors in Singapore, Deloitte & Touche, relating to the pounds 800m collapse of the bank at the hands of Nick Leeson.

The Singapore office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, liquidators of Baring Futures (Singapore) PTE Ltd, has issued a writ against 11 members of Deloitte & Touche as a holding action, in order that the events of the bank's collapse do not become "out of time" for legal action.

The bank collapsed in March 1995 when derivatives contracts entered into by Leeson in Singapore ran out of control, without his superiors' knowledge. Barings was subsequently bought by ING, a Dutch bank, for a pittance.

The overwhelming majority of the bank's operations are being wound up by Ernst & Young, which is attempting to negotiate a final settlement with the bank's various creditors. PWC is only concerned with the Singapore futures bit.

The Singapore liquidators are demanding "damages for loss and damages suffered as a result of negligence" from 11 Deloitte employees who helped audit Barings from 30 September 1992 to 31 December 1993.

ANOTHER LIQUIDATOR is suing Wiltshire County Council over a company the council set up in an attempt to get around the Government's limits on local council capital spending.

The company was subsequently closed down, and now has pounds 8 million in liabilities.

Vivian Bairstow, who joined a new firm, Begbies Traynor, last week, was appointed liquidator to Wiltshire Developments Ltd two years ago, when he was working at accountants Robson Rhodes.

The story started when the council, based in the picturesque West Country town of Trowbridge, set up a special purpose vehicle ("SPV"), Wiltshire Developments, whose directors were officers and councillors of the county.

The idea was that the company, while fully owned by the council, would buy some property from the council using borrowed money. The council would guarantee the borrowing and would be able to use the proceeds to spend on infrastructure - avoiding the Government's spending curbs.

After discussions with the District Auditor, however, the council agreed that this arrangement exceeded their powers, and they applied to have the company wound up in September 1996.

The company borrowed much of its funds from CSFB, the investment bank. This debt, with interest, now amounts to over pounds 2.5m.

Now, Mr Bairstow alleges, the council is refusing to pay CSFB the money back, and at the same time is demanding that it hangs on to the property "sold" to the company.

Mr Bairstow said: "The council wants to have its cake and eat it. They want restitution of the property and they want to renege on the debt to CSFB."

He has now applied to the court to get his hands on either the property or a cash alternative.

He is also suing the council for wrongful trading, saying that as "shadow directors" of the company they should have known the scheme would not hold up.

Mr Bairstow adds that he has recently had a look at the council's accounts. "They have made a provision of pounds 3m against Wiltshire Developments. That makes me somewhat more bullish about the case."

ONE OF the world's biggest banks is suing one of Britain's most successful property developers over a disputed investment in a Caribbean tax haven.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is demanding pounds 50,000 plus interest from a company based in the British Virgin Islands, which in turn is owned by trusts of which Elliott Bernerd, head of the Chelsfield property group, is a "discretionary beneficiary".

The tangled tale goes back to August 1989. HSBC started to lend money to Belize Investment SA, a company based in Zurich. By 2 June 1997, Belize owed HSBC more than pounds 3.7m.

Earlier in August 1989 a Paul Bloomfield had given an unlimited guarantee to HSBC that Belize's debts would be repaid in full. But by June 1997 the above debt was still outstanding and HSBC grew concerned about being repaid.

That same month Mr Bernerd introduced HSBC to a company based in the British Virgin Islands called Rootsville Ltd. Jeremy Lloyd of HSBC agreed to sell all the bank's rights to Belize's debts, including interest, to Rootsville for pounds 300,000.

Mr Bernerd explained his relationship with Rootsville in a letter to HSBC dated 4 June 1997: "Rootsville is a company wholly owned by Trusts of which I am a discretionary beneficiary. The Trustees, to whom I am copying this letter, have permitted Rootsville to enter into the presently contemplated assignment with my full consent."

The "assignment" was the deal to buy out Belize's debt. Under the deal Rootsville would pay the pounds 300,000 in a series of instalments. HSBC got its first pounds 100,000, and was due to get another pounds 50,000 on each anniversary of the deal for the next four years.

HSBC says it still hasn't received the pounds 50,000 instalment from 27 June 1998, and wants Mr Bernerd to use his "influence" with Rootsville to get it to cough up.

HSBC's lawyers, Nicholson Graham & Jones, do leave Rootsville a get-out clause in their writ of 22 September. If within 14 days Rootsville pays the pounds 50,000 plus pounds 389 costs, then the bank will drop its legal action.