Global Restructuring Review - Cross-border restructuring and insolvency legal news, features and events

GRR 100 2019

Sequor Law

23 May 2019

Several new faces have joined the Miami boutique, including a member of IWIRC’s executive board

Global head of restructuring and insolvency Gregory Grossman
Partners in restructuring team 5
Active cross-border restructuring and insolvency matters 35

History of the practice

Shareholders Edward Davis and Gregory Grossman launched boutique Sequor Law in April 2017, in what was effectively a rebrand of Miami firm Astigarraga Davis's cross-border insolvency, international asset recovery and financial fraud team. Davis and Grossman, two of the founders of Astigarraga Davis, decided to establish the new outfit when their former firm's international arbitration practice left to join global law firm Reed Smith.

In addition to keeping all of the cross-border insolvency attorneys from Astigarraga Davis, Sequor Law hired attorney John Silbermann from the enforcements division of the US Securities & Exchange Commission. In 2018, it also added two new partners – both native Spanish speakers – in the form of Leyza Blanco and Fernando Menendez.

The firm holds a niche spot in the cross-border insolvency market, applying a multi-disciplinary approach to use cross-border insolvencies as an asset recovery tool. Who's Who Legal lists Davis and partner Arnoldo Lacayo as experts in asset recovery.

Network

Grossman heads up the firm's international insolvency and financial litigation practice, which operates out of a solitary office in Miami.

Who uses it?

It primarily represents liquidators, insolvency practitioners and victims of fraud, including international banks, sovereign governments and government institutions, lenders and multinational corporations, as well as individuals.

Some notable clients include Big Four professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, Grant Thornton and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Historic track record

The practice, under Astigarraga Davis and Sequor Law, has made over 20 Chapter 15 filings in the US to recognise insolvency proceedings in diverse jurisdictions including Antigua, Austria, Barbados, Brazil, the BVI, the Cayman Islands, Chile, Mexico, Romania and the UK. Indeed, Grossman says the firm has filed more Chapter 15s in Florida – and likely in the whole United States – than any other single law firm in the US.

Notably, Davis and Grossman filed the first Chapter 15 bankruptcy petition in the state of Florida, on behalf of PricewaterhouseCoopers as the custodian of failed financial institution Bancafe International Barbados.

Davis also served as lead civil counsel for the government of Antigua and Barbuda in relation to an alleged fraud in the payment of debt owed to a Japanese lender, which sponsored the building of the Crabbs Desalination and Power Plant in northeast Antigua.

Elsewhere, the team has been instructed as co-counsel to represent the joint liquidators of Stanford International Bank in efforts to recover assets relating to a US$7 billion Ponzi scheme – the second largest in US history. So far, the firm has helped recover US$3.2 million from Panama and US$20 million from the UK; frozen real estate thought to be worth more than US$200 million in Antigua and Barbuda, and also sold a US$4.5 million building in Antigua; released US$40 million from Switzerland; and prosecuted a liability claim against a bank in Canada seeking US$5.4 billion. It has also managed to perfect claims for around US$330 million in assets frozen in Canada, Switzerland and the UK at the request of the US Department of Justice, and is currently assisting with further asset recovery litigation in Antigua and Colombia.

Recent events

There were a few changes in personnel at the firm during the research period. Partner Annette Escobar, who along with Davis co-wrote a regular asset recovery column for GRR, left to set up her own boutique practice, ACE Law, in January 2019.

Before that, Blanco and Menendez joined from GrayRobinson in June. Blanco is secretary of the International Women’s Restructuring and Insolvency Confederation (IWIRC) and sits on its executive board. She has succeeded Escobar on GRR’s asset recovery column.

The firm also hired fraud litigator Christopher Noel from another Miami firm, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani; and academic Andrew B Dawson, a tenured professor at the University of Miami School of Law, as of counsel in September 2018. Dawson recently served as resident scholar at the American Bankruptcy Institute and was a Kaufman legal fellow at Harvard Law School.

On the case front, Sequor Law continues to advise the court-appointed liquidator and foreign representative of bankrupt Chilean investment firm Onix Capital and its CEO Alberto Chang Rajii in separate Chapter 15 proceedings in Florida. The liquidator is seeking to recover assets relating to an alleged Ponzi scheme valued at over US$100 million operated by Chang Rajii, whose bankruptcy proceedings have been recognised in the US, the UK, Switzerland, the Isle of Man and Australia. Sequor Law has issued more than 50 subpoenas in the US to trace and recover the proceeds of the alleged fraud. Liquidators have also now been appointed in the BVI and ancillary bankruptcy proceedings opened in Switzerland.

Grossman and Davis have been providing counsel to bankrupt Brazilian mining company MMX Sudeste Mineração in Chapter 15 proceedings in Florida,  successfully defending a motion to dismiss the Chapter 15 case. In November 2017, the bankruptcy court for the Southern District of Florida granted the mining company’s foreign representative and administrator broad investigatory powers to examine the debtor’s transactions with a host of US banks.

In the case of Brazilian bank Massa Falida Do Banco Cruzeiro Do Sul, Sequor asserted New York state law fraudulent conveyance and Brazilian law claims on behalf of the bank’s Brazilian liquidators in the context of a Chapter 15 case, obtaining the first opinion of its kind saying a foreign liquidator can use US state-law to claw back fraudulent transfers in March 2017. The adversary proceeding within the Chapter 15 is ongoing.

In the research period, Sequor also managed to obtain US recognition for a Rio-based judicial administrator overseeing the Brazilian proceedings of copper manufacturer SAM, its parent Boulder, and one of its ultimate beneficial owners, Daniel Birmann – a long-time bankrupt businessman accused of smuggling a US$30 million yacht into Brazil. Amid numerous discovery efforts so far, the judicial administrator has managed to obtain a Norwich Pharmacal order in the BVI requiring disclosure of certain local ownership records, and has managed to get a freezing order over shares in one of the world’s largest ammunition manufactures, Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos, as property of Birmann held through offshore companies.

Grossman and Davis further secured recognition for the liquidators of electrical appliance company Mabe Brasil Eletrodomésticos, and have served subpoenas for Rule 2004 examinations on three former US shareholders of the group and a US clearing house. 

New Chapter 15 instructions for the firm came from the BVI liquidators of Silisten Trading, a company alleged to have made suspicious transfers linked to the asset-stripping of a privately owned Ukrainian bank; and Jost Rechtsanwälte partner Peter Jost, the Stuttgart-based foreign representative of a deceased German filmmaker, as he seeks access to two Bank of America accounts in the filmmaker’s name.

The firm was also hired by the Brazilian judicial manager of an affiliate of Italian tyre conglomerate Marangoni to investigate its dealings in the US; and by Grant Thornton’s David Ingram and Frederick White, as liquidators of Privilege Wealth One, a Gibraltar-registered payday loans business embroiled in international fraud and mismanagement allegations. The Grant Thornton partners instructed Sequor to help them obtain recognition in Miami from where they believe a portfolio of the company’s loans was being serviced.