Property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz has accused accountancy firm Grant Thornton of conspiring to persuade the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to launch an investigation into his business dealings with the Icelandic bank Kaupthing.
The lawyer for Tchenguiz, who with his brother Vincent once had a property portfolio worth around £4.5 billion, accused Grant Thornton, two of its partners and former Kaupthing lawyer Johannes Runar Johannsson of conspiring to use the SFO’s criminal investigation as a weapon against him.
The brothers were arrested by the City of London police in 2011 as part of an SFO investigation into the collapse of Kaupthing in 2008.
Lawyer Stephen Rubin of Fountain Court said Robert Tchenguiz was “brought low” by the arrest and now faces the loss of the £20 million mansion he shares in Kensington with his 27-year old Polish girlfriend, his ex-wife and their two children.
Rubin alleged the arrest was stimulated by Johannsson, Grant Thornton, which was acting as the bank’s liquidator, and Grant Thornton partners Stephen Akers and Hossein Hamedan, City A.M. reported. He said the plan was to nail Tchenguiz’s business, R20.
“The defendants conspired to deceive the SFO,” Rubin said, “To injure him, his businesses and the trusts” which he is a beneficiary of.
The claimants said Grant Thornton’s accusations were shared with the Icelandic prosecutor which then shared the information with the SFO.
Rubin said the motive for the alleged conspiracy was maximising returns for the bank from Tchenguiz and his family trust, which owed more than £1 billion to the bank at the time of its collapse.
Grant Thornton later provided information directly to the SFO and held 17 face-to-face or telephone meetings with the agency, Rubin said.
Rubin added that the SFO swallowed the alleged conspiracy “hook, line and sinker”.
A spokesperson for Grant Thornton said Tchenguiz had already recovered any loss from the arrest and subsequent investigation by the SFO.
“He has no claim against the parties in these proceedings,” Grant Thornton said, adding that the losses Tchenguiz is claiming resulted from “the collapse of his own disastrous investment strategy over a decade ago”.
“The claim is an abuse of process. The allegations against three experienced and well-respected individuals have been invented, are not supported by any evidence and are bound to fail,” the spokesperson stated.
Lawyers for Johannsonn at Travers Smith said the claims were “ill-conceived and baseless”.
“It is astonishing that Robert Tchenguiz and his advisers have chosen to pursue these claims when their case theory is so absurd and fundamentally flawed,” the lawyers added.
The SFO arrested Tchenguiz and his brother Vincent in 2011 during a three-year investigation into their alleged involvement in the collapse of Kaupthing. It was later forced to drop the case due to serious failings.
The brothers subsequently sued the SFO for more than £200 million in 2012, settling in 2014 after it agreed to pay Vincent £3 million plus legal costs and Robert £1.5 million plus costs.
Tchenguiz originally considered taking action against Grant Thornton in 2014, stating at the time that he wanted to pursue those who he felt were “responsible and liable for the devastation that has been caused”.
The case continues.