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An umbrella belonging to the disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff was among more than 400 pieces of seized personal property that was auctioned in late 2010 to raise funds for the victims of Madoff's multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Justin Lane / EPA
An umbrella belonging to the disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff was among more than 400 pieces of seized personal property that was auctioned in late 2010 to raise funds for the victims of Madoff's multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Justin Lane / EPA

Messy Madoff legacy spreads far and wide

Two new cases filed by Dubai-based investors against Standard Chartered in Singapore illustrate the widening global reach of claims involving Bernard Madoff's $65bn Ponzi scheme.

More than two years after Bernard Madoff was sentenced to a 150-year jail term in the US for masterminding the world's biggest Ponzi scheme, the legal skirmish over the remnants of his empire of greed and fraud rages on.

Investors whose savings were wiped out when the US$65 billion (Dh238.73bn) scam collapsed in 2008 have filed suits in jurisdictions from New York to London against both Madoff and a plethora of funds and banks that fed investors' money into the scheme.

The latest turn in the ballooning Madoff affair has taken the case to Singapore, where two groups of investors based in Dubai are suing Standard Chartered, seeking about $10 million they put into the scam.

Singapore's Straits Times reported yesterday that the investor groups claim they were misled when they funnelled the money through a Singapore adviser at American Express Bank (AEB) to Fairfield Sentry, a Madoff feeder fund that lured in foreign investors with promises of high and stable returns. Standard Chartered bought AEB in 2008.

AEB "failed to act with reasonable care and skill in matters relating to the plaintiff's investments", the investors said in claims lodged before the Singapore high court in May, according to a Reuters report.

Standard Chartered contested the claims of negligence and breach of contract last month, arguing in part that the investors were sophisticated and knew what they were getting into. The bank declined to comment.

While the cases are not the first in a non-US jurisdiction, they appear to be the first class-action suits involving Madoff to be handled by the Singaporean courts, underscoring the broadening scope of a scheme that destroyed wealth like no white-collar fraud before or since.

The two groups of investors, represented by Niru Pillai of Global Law Alliance, originally filed cases in New York, but their claims were moved to Singapore because their investment accounts were located there and they received investment advice from an AEB representative in Singapore. Standard Chartered's lawyers had argued in one of the New York cases that Singapore was "central to the dispute".

"The relevant documents are principally located in Singapore and the bank employees who are witnesses to the alleged misstatements are located in Singapore or Dubai," Standard Chartered argued in a memorandum of law filed in New York last year.

The Singapore claims reportedly involve more than 20 investors and a pair of investment holding companies. One group of seven Indian nationals in Dubai is trying to recover $5.3m entrusted to Madoff. A second group of 14 claimants and two companies are seeking the return of $4.75m.

The claims come as the overarching Madoff case takes on new twists and turns. In New York, the trustee overseeing the liquidation of Madoff's estate sued the owners of the New York Mets baseball team in December, arguing they overlooked warnings that the hedge funds Madoff ran were a sham. The owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, won a victory on Friday when a federal judge took over the case.

Meanwhile, dozens of banks have been striking settlement agreements in recent months with Irving Picard, the trustee, in a bid to put the Madoff scandal behind them. HSBC, Spain's Banco Santander and Switzerland's Union Bancaire Privee - an institution that counted Gulf investors among its clients - have made payouts to investors as part of agreements with Mr Picard. The trustee, however, is still forging ahead with a $19bn claim against JPMorgan Chase, the US investment banking giant.

As Madoff languishes in a US federal prison, serving a sentence unprecedented in the annals of white-collar crime, the complexity of the claims involving his fraud and their widening geographical reach - to places as far-flung from the US as Singapore - probably mean it will take many more years before trustees and the hundreds of investors who lost money can find any kind of closure.

afitch@thenational.ae

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