GRR 100 2021

Monfrini Bitton Klein

Monfrini Bitton Klein

Professional notice

Acting for liquidators in the Saad, Stanford International Bank and Bilta cases

Global heads of restructuring and insolvencyYves Klein
Partners in restructuring team1
Active cross-border restructuring and insolvency matters20

History of the practice

Switzerland’s Monfrini Bitton Klein (MBK) is a successor to a law firm founded by Enrico Monfrini in 1978, which was a prominent force in arbitration, litigation and international business law. Monfrini still plays a role in the current firm as of counsel, and over the years has become known for tracking down billions of dollars siphoned off by dictators, including former Nigerian leader General Sani Abacha and ex-Haitian president François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Since the late 1990s, the firm has come to the fore in cross-border asset recovery, led by partner Yves KleinDavid Bitton joined in 2015 and helped to strengthen the firm’s white collar-crime practice.

The firm adopted its current name in 2017, when it decided to focus on litigation. In particular, the firm is a key player in offshore civil litigation, helping to enforce insolvency orders and freezing orders, as well as pursuing evidence for the benefit of foreign proceedings.

Network

The firm is based in Geneva.

Who uses it?

The firm’s asset recovery expertise is tapped by foreign liquidators, foreign governments prosecuting grand corruption cases, and defrauded individuals and companies.

Historic track record

Monfrini regularly provides counsel to foreign liquidators, including Marina Saita of Romania’s Bank Deposit Guarantee Fund (FGDB) in the insolvency of Banca Turco Romana. In 2017, the bank obtained Chapter 15 recognition of Romanian insolvency proceedings after criminal proceedings were opened against some of its directors over alleged suspicious activity that suggested the directors’ Swiss accounts had been used for money laundering.

The firm also acted as counsel to Grant Thornton as liquidators of alleged Ponzi scheme Stanford International (SIB). SIB, which was incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda and was part of the US-based Stanford Group, collapsed in February 2009 and entered liquidation in Antigua later that year. 

It also advised the liquidators of Brazil’s Banco Santos and played a role in the insolvency of Onix Capital, a Chilean investment vehicle run by fraud suspect Alberto Chang-Rajii.

Recent events

In September 2020, Evin Durmaz joined the firm as counsel from Froriep in Singapore. Three months later, the firm promoted Edouard Kaiflin to a senior associate.

Top cases of the research period

MBK is continuing to represent the joint liquidators of Cayman fund Saad Investments in legal actions against a Swiss bank – before civil and criminal courts and the bankruptcy office in Geneva. In January 2020, the firm obtained the first judgment of a Swiss civil court recognising the specific need to provide support to insolvency office holders and granting a right to pretrial collection of evidence. In another landmark ruling in June 2020, the Swiss Supreme Court reaffirmed that a Swiss bank cannot invoke banking secrecy to withhold client information from the insolvency office holder.

Klein and counsel Antonia Mottironi are also continuing to advise the joint liquidators of Stanford International Bank (SIB), an Antiguan bank owned and controlled by US citizen, Robert Allen Stanford, who in 2012 was sentenced to 110 years in prison for operating a US$7 billion Ponzi scheme. The Antiguan insolvency proceedings were recognised in Switzerland, and MBK was retained to represent SIB as the plaintiff in Swiss criminal proceedings for fraud and money laundering, leading in 2014 to the recovery of US$10 million. Claims in excess of US$900 million are still being litigated.

Elsewhere, MBK represented Romanian bank Banca Turco Romana in criminal proceedings and its liquidator, FGDB in bankruptcy recognition proceedings in Switzerland. Klein and Mottironi helped the liquidator negotiate a litigation funding agreement with Burford Capital, which allowed it to bring proceedings in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, England, Turkey and the US.

In England, the firm is acting for the liquidators of Bilta (UK), an English company created to commit a carbon credits VAT fraud worth £39 million (US$53.8 million). Bilta’s liquidators brought proceedings against Swiss company Jetivia, which raised an ex turpi causa defence – where a plaintiff is unable to pursue damages for something that arose as a result of their own tortious act – but the Supreme Court of England rejected it in 2015. In May 2019, a Geneva court recognised the English insolvency in Switzerland, and four months later, one of the fraudsters, who was residing in Geneva, was extradited to the Netherlands, leading to the authorisation of the joint liquidators to transfer Swiss assets outside Switzerland, marking the first authorisation granted in Switzerland under its new bill on cross-border insolvency.

Client references

“Monfrini Bitton Klein has a formidable reputation and extensive experience in cases of fraud, asset recovery, and investigations,” says an MBK client who wished to remain anonymous. “We have worked with them before and their team is very experienced in offshore and cross border cases.”

“They offer diverse and practical solutions and are specialists not only in Swiss law but in understanding how to apply it to cross border cases and work within a wider strategy,” says the client. “The team’s depth of capability and responsiveness makes them stand out in the market.”

”Mr Klein provides valuable insights, is candid with his advice, yet finds flexible solutions to complex issues,” they add. “Mr Klein and his team are tenacious and provide a high level of client engagement, taking time to understand their client’s needs.”

Based in Geneva but borderless in its reach, Monfrini Bitton Klein is an internationally recognised, conflict-free litigation boutique focusing on asset recovery, business crime and cross-border insolvency.

Founded in 1978, the firm has since the late 1990s gained international renown for conducting multi-jurisdictional asset recovery proceedings on behalf of foreign governments (Brazil, Guinea, Haiti, Nigeria, Tunisia), liquidators of foreign insolvencies (Banca Turco Romana SA, Banco Santos SA, Bilta (UK) Ltd, Saad Investment Company Ltd, Stanford International Bank Ltd and The SIPA Liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC and the Estate of Bernard L. Madoff), and defrauded companies or individuals, resulting in the recovery of more than US$4 billion in damages and crime proceeds.

For years, Monfrini Bitton Klein has been recognised in asset recovery, business crime and cross-border insolvency by Chambers (Band 1, Asset Tracing and Recovery) and Who’s Who Legal (Asset Recovery Lawyer of the Year 2019, Switzerland’s Asset Recovery Firm of the Year 2019, GRR 100 2019 and 2021).

In 2019, Monfrini Bitton Klein obtained the first recognition of a foreign officeholder under the new Swiss cross-border insolvency regime, and has since then obtained several other recognitions and waivers of the Swiss ancillary bankruptcy.

The firm has access to hundreds of internationally renowned specialised correspondent lawyers and other litigation professionals, such as private investigators, forensic accountants, insolvency practitioners and litigation funders around the world. It is Switzerland’s representative of ICC FraudNet, the leading network of fraud and asset recovery lawyers.

Monfrini Bitton Klein
place du Molard 3
1204 Geneva
Switzerland

Website: www.mbk.law/en

Get unlimited access to all Global Restructuring Review content