Acting for liquidators in the Saad, Stanford International Bank and Bilta cases
|Global heads of restructuring and insolvency||Yves Klein|
|Partners in restructuring team||1|
|Active cross-border restructuring and insolvency matters||12|
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 Klein.
It 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.
The firm is based in Geneva.
Who uses it?
Its asset recovery expertise is tapped by foreign liquidators, foreign governments prosecuting grand corruption cases, and defrauded individuals and companies. Clients include advisory firms Grant Thornton, BDO, Kroll, Kalo and Quantuma.
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.
In England, the firm acted 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 argued in an unsuccessful in the UK Supreme Court that the plaintiff should not be able to pursue damages for something that arose as a result of their own tortious act. 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.
The firm has strengthened its practice through hires and promotions: Natalia Hidalgo came on board as an associate in May 2021, joining from MLL Meyerlustenberger Lachenal Froriep; shortly after her arrival she was promoted to senior associate.
Top cases of the research period
MBK continues 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 is 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 of more than 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 Monfrini 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.
Elsewhere, MBF was instructed by the joint liquidators of Bermudian investment fund Private Investments Limited, which was wound up in October 2021, to seek recognition in Switzerland and to represent their interests in Swiss criminal proceedings to recover $100 million of frozen assets; the fund is suspected to have been used to launder proceeds of the alleged tax fraud perpetrated by American billionaire Robert Brockman.
“The firm has a consistent track record of delivering favourable results. Its expertise and commitment are highly valued,” says a client who wished to remain anonymous. “Yves Klein has a deep knowledge of Swiss law and has a strategic mindset coupled with vast experience”, which marks him out as an “elite specialist in contentious cross-border issues”. “His team is highly motivated and delivers superlative advice,” they add.
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