Bidzina Ivanishvili, the only pro-Western billionaire in the Far Caucasus, has won a significant victory in his long-running dispute with the well-known Swiss banking group Credit Suisse. According to a judgement from the Supreme Court of Bermuda, CS Life, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Credit Suisse, will have to pay more than $600 million to Mr. Ivanishvili and his family. However, the war in Ukraine and subsequent geopolitical shifts have added a new level of intrigue to the dispute. BusinessMagazine24 spoke to Mr. Ivanishvili’s lawyer, Viktor Kipiani, about the latest developments.
BusinessMagazine24: Mr. Victor, you made a statement on May 11 regarding Credit Suisse deliberately delaying payments to Bidzina Ivanishvili, noting that many events coincided, which intensified questions about Credit Suisse’s actions. What did you mean, what events are you talking about?
Viktor Kipiani: You have started our interview with the big picture, and rightly so, because this picture is composed of two elements. One is the dispute with Credit Suisse’s own banking group and the other is a dubious coincidence that has arisen in recent times. I made a few hints in the May 11 statement; however, I did not provide the finer details.
The first was a problem with works of art and there was a further misunderstanding with the import of a helicopter from Germany, both of which were legally resolved. Far more concerning is that these issues coincided with recent geopolitical developments and in particular, the war in Ukraine, which has created a volatile situation in our region and significant uncertainty in the wider world. Particularly alarming is the fact that the difficulties posed by the war have tempted certain forces and groups to break laws and norms. As a result, we have focused on these dubious coincidences. It is true that they do not have a definitive source, they are less legal in nature, but the circumstances make us think whether we are dealing with something else and whether it can be explained otherwise.
We, as the responsible party, take this case absolutely seriously and we want to follow all the legal requirements and standards, so at this stage we will limit ourselves only to stating the facts. Depending on where, what and what will be needed, we will decide on the expediency of publicizing this or that fact and will provide additional information as required.
In any case, it was appropriate for us to start talking about this topic, since we are dealing not only with the specifics of litigation against Credit Suisse, but also with other circumstances that are not related to the Bank at all, but the timely gathering of information which allows us to make statements and assessments of the facts.
We won a case against Credit Suisse in the Supreme Court of Bermuda in the first instance in March of this year, but issues with the Bank’s trust structures continue to this day, and the Bank’s management does not respond to any of our letters or publications in the media. To tell you the truth, it is an unheard of and inexplicable event for me when a bank does not respond to a client’s understandable concerns.
However, I would like to clarify that when we talk about the delay of transfers, we are talking about the delay of transfers from a trust structure created and administered by Credit Suisse. This is the reason why we have filed a lawsuit against one of such trusts. There are other issues which are also related to the delay of transfers, and these may also be subject to further legal proceedings.
BusinessMagazine24: What do you think about the Bank’s behavior towards Mr. Ivanishvili and the recent developments?
VK: The behavior of the Bank is truly stunning. We have publicized several statements in the media, in which we have asked very relevant and challenging questions for Credit Suisse to respond to as a financial institution. Given that this is a world-renowned banking group for which business reputation is paramount, it’s surprising when serious allegations of your credibility are made, and Credit Suisse seem reluctant to answer questions or offer an audience-friendly version of the facts.
This silence is incomprehensible and completely incompatible with the reputation of a financial institution.
There is also another circumstance that I would like to address, which relates to the Credit Suisse’s approach and operation. An uninformed person might think that in the wake of the pandemic, the global economic crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, there is serious pressure on the Bank’s credit resources and it would do everything to retain the assets of UHNW clients. Such an approach would be understandable if not for the fact that for several years, Mr. Ivanishvili’s assets have been transferred from Credit Suisse to another financial institution. However, given that the management of those assets will continue to be credited to Credit Suisse, we reiterate that the Bank’s silence is incomprehensible and, moreover, the questions give rise to strange coincidences and circumstances that cannot be explained only in legal terms.
BusinessMagazine24: This seems a very strange way for an international bank such as Credit Suisse to behave, what do you think are its motives?
VK: A Bermuda Court recently awarded Mr. Ivanishvili more than USD 600 million in damages from Credit Suisse’s subsidiary. Against this background, the delay in the bank’s transfers to Mr. Ivanishvili on the grounds of “ongoing geopolitical processes in Eastern Europe” is an obvious argument – is the Bank seeking revenge for the Court’s Judgement or is it motivated by another, hidden motive?
It is very difficult to judge the motives of the Bank with absolute accuracy. However, it is undeniable that for many years now, Credit Suisse has been violating the basic rights of Mr. Ivanishvili as a client. This obvious, unheard of and outrageous behavior on the part of the Bank, which can in no way imagine what the Bank’s attitude towards one of its most important clients might be, and metaphorically speaking, when we speak of the world-famous Swiss banking group.
Now, the behavior of Credit Suisse, in our opinion and assessment, is focused on the fact that Mr. Ivanishvili will get bored or tired, or for some other reason will start getting frustrated. In this case, it is surprising that for many years, when the Bank “dragged out” this case, Credit Suisse did not understand the nature of the client and could not determine the character of Mr. Ivanishvili – he is a very principled, very honorable, very unyielding person, for whom the key is in this case, the principle and who is committed to exposing the injustice, which has been happening at Credit Suisse and its subsidiaries for many years.
BusinessMagazine24: Can you give your opinion on the developments in the legal cases and how Credit Suisse has reacted to these?
VK: The dynamics of the case are such that despite this turmoil, we have recently witnessed a major milestone in our favor. You mentioned the decision of the Bermuda court, which practically fully satisfied our claim; on the financial side, we expect that the calculation, which has been agreed by the other party to be more than USD 600 million to be approved by the Court. The Judgement also confirmed that the Credit Suisse subsidiary knew about the fraudulent activities yet did not take any action and ‘chose to prioritize the revenues being generated for Credit Suisse over the interests of its clients.’ This is an incredible statement.
Since we are talking about the ongoing dispute, we would also like to point out that we are now in the process of preparing for the trial in Singapore against Credit Suisse’s local trust structures. This starts in September and the prerequisites and signs are that we can expect a similar result to Bermuda.
Therefore, I would like to use this opportunity to ask Credit Suisse’s leadership – do you understand that the longer they underestimate Mr. Ivanishvili, the more they do to frustrate his efforts to seek redress, the worse off the Bank will be than it is today? Currently, the Bank’s situation has deteriorated precisely because of this famous decision of the Bermuda Court, which was not only covered extensively in the international media but has also had a negative impact on the Bank’s share price. We continue to hope that Credit Suisse’s leadership will take responsibility for the cfailures and mismanagement perpetrated by its employees and, so to speak, will be able to reach an agreement on this matter. Otherwise, every process, every review and every filing will only make the Bank worse off, both reputationally and financially.
BusinessMagazine24: In the coverage of this dispute there are a lot of political narratives, even conspiracy theories, but to put them aside, such self-harming silence of the bank is really inexplicable. Do you think a third party is putting pressure on the bank from behind the scenes?
VK: Of course, I also read the articles of this nature published in the media, however, my view as a lawyer will not be held in a reasoned and serious manner. At the same time, we cannot ignore the indisputable fact that the Trustee appointed by the Bank has referenced “geopolitical processes in Eastern Europe”, which, given the coincidences I spoke about, very awkwardly coincides with our dispute with “Credit Suisse” – this is one element.
The second element that must also be considered is that when it comes to Credit Suisse, it is not just a financial institution, but is an influential global structure, operated by different interests at its core, whether these are political or geopolitical. Theoretically, it is therefore possible to assume that the attitude of the Bank towards Mr. Ivanishvili is not governed by commercial or legal interest alone. There may be something else beyond the law, but that is only my assumption. To go into more detail on my part, I repeat, would now be frivolous. I would also like to clarify that my role as a lawyer is focused on the legal aspects; but the specifics of this dispute, especially with a global institution such as Credit Suisse, forces people to think about other illegal, often politically motivated circumstances.
But in this case, I will limit myself to just specifying the circumstances. However, it confirms that the bigger picture has many different elements which are interrelated – I was interested in the versions of Georgian experts regarding the third party. Some of them believe that the reckless behavior at Credit Suisse is due to outside interference. In particular, there is a view that some influential American interest groups want to blackmail Mr. Ivanishvili, to put pressure on the Government and facilitate Georgia’s opening of a second front for Russia; and there is another view which states that these interest groups are focused on discrediting the Swiss banking system.
Here, perhaps, I must tell your audience that Mr. Ivanishvili has been out of active politics for more than a year. Consequently, the formulation of the question that you asked, that considering its factor and the pressure, it is possible to involve the country in the war or not, is a bold proposal, to put it mildly. At the same time, I cannot deny that despite leaving active politics, Mr. Ivanishvili’s public position and priorities can undoubtedly be said to be greater than that taken by many active politicians.
Therefore, it is self-evident that his attitude towards this or that issue, his assessment of this or that issue, in many cases, is an important factor in the formation of public opinion in the country. This public opinion may even be related to decision-making to some extent. This time, I will limit myself to just mentioning it. In my opinion, it is neither expedient to go into more detail, nor is it dictated by the interests of the case. Anyway, at least I didn’t finish this interview without explaining myself first.
One thing that must be said that Mr. Ivanishvili’s attitude to the case is not only to seek redress but also to maintain the financial stability of Credit Suisse. It’s probably unusual for someone in his position, but it’s true. We continue to pursue the truth in the dispute and try to enforce the law, but it is not in our interests to scrutinize the Swiss banking and legal system; however, both when it comes to this dispute, both deserve very harsh criticism.
However, we cannot fail to mention that the actions and conduct of “Credit Suisse” not only harms the Bank, but also has a very negative impact on the Swiss banking and financial sector in general. This is the case when the Swiss public authorities, in particular the regulatory bodies, pay special attention to this dispute. Swiss politicians should also draw their own conclusions from this case, because in fact what we see in this case is a problem of the Swiss banking system and it needs reform, which should be implemented by the Swiss government itself.
BusinessMagazine24: What will be your next tactic be towards the bank? Does your active media engagement contribute to tarnishing the image of the bank and thus becoming a weapon in the hands of the third party, whoever it may be, to discredit the Swiss banking system?
VK: As for the future tactics – there are two types, two directions so to speak: one is to continue our success in the Courtroom; and in this regard, I want to say absolutely responsibly that we have absolute confidence in the final success of our claims. A little more patience is needed, perhaps a little more time, obviously also resilience, all of which Mr. Ivanishvili and his team understand.
The second direction is the Bank’s reputation. I repeat once again and express my surprise at how Credit Suisse remains silent in the face of such intense questions; How can it be that we have not heard any comment from the Bank on any fact, circumstance, whether you want it to be public, whether you want it to be in private? In any case, the pressure from us will continue, the pressure will be legal, the pressure will continue to weaken the Bank’s reputation in the media, and I believe that these two directions, which will be strengthened by the facts, will ultimately lead to the right result.