Early Redemption of ‘Cocos’: Win for LBG in Supreme Court

26 06 2016

BNY Mellon Corporate Trustee Services Ltd v LBG Capital No 1 Plc & Anor [2016] UKSC 29 (16 June 2016)

Almost like the British public on Brexit, the Supreme Court remained closely divided on the issue of whether the Court of Appeal erred in its construction of the terms of enhanced capital notes (ECNs) by relying on technical and specialist information as part of the factual matrix. Formally described as ECNs, the loan notes were contingent convertible securities (or “Cocos”). Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Mance and Lord Toulson agreed) dismissed BNY Mellon’s appeal whereas Lord Sumption (with whom Lord Clarke agreed) would have done otherwise. As Lord Sumption said in his brief note of dissent, the case was “of considerable financial importance to the parties” but it raised “no questions of wider legal significance”. The outcome in the case is a major blow for investors (receiving up to 16pc interest) who had hoped that the court would not have held that the terms of the bonds (or ECNs) allowed Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) to redeem them early at face value. The High Court found in favour of the bondholders but the Court of Appeal reversed that decision, one that the Supreme Court has upheld: albeit not without doubts and dissent. Led by Mark Taber, the bondholders disputed that the ECNs had been disqualified as capital and resorted to litigation. A disgruntled Taber said that the division between the justices “raises massive issues over the role of the regulators”.

He is particularly aggrieved that the court’s judgment does not engage with the arguments aired about statutory requirements that bond prospectuses must be accurate and provide crystal clear information to investors so that they may make informed choices and decisions. Worse still Taber also complains that he lobbied the FCA’s new boss Andrew Bailey to make germane information – about the exact scope of the regulator and LBG’s knowledge about impending changes to capital requirements when the ECNs were issued – available to the court. But since his request was not granted, he argues that because the courts are not willing to intervene it must be the City regulator’s job to interpret the prospectuses. “I believe the changes they knew about, which were not disclosed in the ECN prospectus, meant that a capital disqualification event was a certainty at the time the ECNs were issued. If the court had been told this I think it would have made a difference,” is how Taber expressed his frustration with the situation. However, his claim appears to directly contradict even Lord Sumption’s dissenting judgment that despite its financial importance the appeal contained no legally significant questions of wider importance. Read the rest of this entry »





“Land Banks” and Collective Investment Schemes: Supreme Court on s.235, FSMA

6 05 2016

news-release-120514Asset Land Investment Plc & Anor v The Financial Conduct Authority [2016] UKSC 17 (20 April 2016)

The Financial Conduct Authority is in the news a lot these days. Andrew Bailey has been handpicked to head the agency but the chancellor George Osborne has come under fire for making the appointment without conducting a formal interview, thereby sidestepping the two candidates (Tracey McDermott and Greg Medcraft from Down Under) formally on the shortlist. However, the beleaguered FCA chairman John Griffith-Jones agreed with outgoing chief executive McDermott and both of them were “happy” with the chancellor’s appointment of Bailey – a beefy looking BoE insider who impressively holds a doctorate in economic history. As seen in the last post, Panama has been in the news a lot. The FCA had originally given 20 banks until 15 April 2016 to report on the extent, if any, of their involvement and links with Mossack Fonseca or firms serviced by them. But now it warns that prosecutions over the Panama Papers are not clear-cut. According to Mark Steward, head of enforcement, the media frenzy is “quite different from prosecutions – the two don’t necessarily go together”. This case involved a Panamanian corporation called Asset LI Inc trading as Asset Land Investment plc against which the FCA brought proceedings for carrying on “regulated activities” without authorisation contrary to the general prohibition in section 19 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Schemes for investing in land with development potential are commonly known as “land banks” and the operation of such initiatives first came into the regulatory perimeter under section 11 of the PERG Manual of the FCA Handbook.  

In Financial Services Authority v Fradley [2005] EWCA Civ 1183, the Court of Appeal had described the drafting of section 235 (collective investment schemes) of FSMA as “open-textured” by virtue of which words such as “arrangements” and “property of any description” are to be given “a wide meaning”. Arden LJ found in Fradley that section 235 must not be construed so as to include matters which are not fairly within it because contravening section 19 may result in the commission of criminal offences, subject to section 23(3) of FSMA. Lord Carnwath of Notting Hill found her Ladyship’s approach to be “helpful guidance”. On the other hand, he remained cautious of drawing analogies from comparative Commonwealth legislation presented to the court – such as the Australian Corporations Act 2001 – on the ground that differences in drafting warranted keeping the discussion strictly within the boundaries of UK statutes and authorities. Like the first instance judge, the Supreme Court referred to the English and the Panamanian company indiscriminately as “Asset Land”. Read the rest of this entry »





Supreme Court on the ‘Houdini Taxpayer’

24 04 2016

UBS AG & Deutsche Bank v Revenue and Customs [2016] UKSC 13 (9 March 2016)

As infamously explained by jailed fraudster Tom Hayes, UBS must be credited with issuing a “handbook” on rigging LIBOR. Doubling Hayes up, in the ongoing LIBOR trial, Jonathan Mathew, one of five charged Barclays traders, says that he was merely following orders and just did what his boss taught/told him to do. The five men say everyone in the big banks “knew LIBOR was rigged”. As seen in an earlier post, along with Barclays traders, Deutsche Bank traders are facing criminal charges for EURIBOR manipulation and proceedings are ongoing in the case of R v Christian Bittar & Ors – first appearances were made at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 January 2016 and a mention hearing was held on 18 March 2016. Former Deutsche trader Martyn Dodgson has also been convicted for insider trading in Operation Tabernula. In the instant case, echoing Templeman LJ in W T Ramsay Ltd v Inland Revenue Comrs [1979] 1 WLR 974, Lord Reed described UBS and Deutsche Bank’s behaviour as “the most sophisticated attempts of the Houdini taxpayer to escape from the manacles of tax.” The banks, which Lord King calls “the Achilles heel of capitalism”, may be disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling but most people will only be too delighted that top executives should become acquainted with some degree of retributive justice. The dry issue of tax is a hot political topic these days and the Panama Papers (see here) culminated in calls for the prime minister to resign for being a hypocrite.

Though this post is about the Supreme Court’s judgment, I use the opportunity to discursively expose other important tax issues reported in the media. Of course, Deutsche Bank announced last October that it would axe 9,000 full-time jobs and it has just recent lost its global position as a top-three investment bank. Research from Coalition, that ranks global investment banks by total revenue from fees and trading, shows that Citigroup and Bank of America are ahead of Deutsche Bank. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs retained their positions in first and second place respectively. Tim Wallace writes in today’s The Sunday Telegraph that once a cash cow, investment banking is now is serious crisis and jobs and pay across the sector has declined. It is a vicious cycle and the following insightful analogy is invoked “shrinking an investment bank is hard. It is like unravelling a jumper – once you start pulling on the thread it is hard to stop … then all of a sudden, you haven’t got a jumper at all.” Read the rest of this entry »





Navinder Sarao: ‘Flash Crash’ Trader’s Extradition Request Upheld

28 03 2016

The Government of the United States of America v Navinder Singh Sarao (23 March 2016)

The case of Nav Sarao, the “hound of Hounslow” who faces a potential sentence of 380 years’ imprisonment on 22 counts in the US, has inflamed emotions and commentators have expressed extreme sympathy with the rogue trader who is considered to be the main culprit behind the “flash crash” of 6 May 2010. The disproportionate nature of his predicament is clearly illustrated by the fact that if extradited and punished in America, Sarao may well receive a harsher sentence than Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadic who got 40 years for crimes against humanity and genocide but will enjoy the right to a lengthy appeals process. It has been argued that Sarao had to be caged because he discovered a way to beat the HFTs at their own game. At the time of his arrest, senior traders even made public statements about footing his legal bill. Seldom has a corporate crime case aroused such a passionate response. Fellow traders dubbed Sarao “our spoofing hero” and the case against him was labelled “ridiculous”. Yet in the Westminster magistrates’ court judge Quentin Purdy disagreed and found that Sarao was extraditable to the US on the charges levelled against him. On the other hand, in making factual findings in the case, judge Purdy found that the downturn in the market was not attributable to a single event and the cause of the flash crash “cannot on any view be laid wholly or mostly at Navinder Sarao’s door” because even though he was active on 6 May 2010 the date “is only a single trading day in over 400 relied upon by the prosecution.”

Against this, the Commodities Trading Futures Commission accuses the Brit of exacerbating the flash crash and claims he “was at least significantly responsible for the order imbalances” in the derivatives market which affected stock markets to make matters worse on the day. The judge found that if found guilty of market abuse under UK law, Sarao’s activity would result in a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment being imposed on him and so the dual criminality test in section 137 of the Extradition Act 2003 was satisfied. He also stressed the importance of the public interest in upholding the controversial UK-US Extradition Treaty. Sarao is accused of engaging in a ferocious campaign to manipulate the price of the E-mini S&P 500 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by relying on a variety of exceptionally large, aggressive and persistent spoofing tactics. Read the rest of this entry »





Supreme Court: Corporate Raids and the Proper Purpose Rule

17 01 2016

Eclairs Group Ltd and Glengary Overseas Ltd v JKX Oil & Gas plc [2015] UKSC 71 (2 December 2015)

In a judgment which may at first blush appear to be unremarkable, Lord Neuberger, Lord Mance, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption and Lord Hodge held that the proper purpose rule applied to the exercise of the power conferred on the board – allowing it to issue a “restriction notice” whenever a statutory disclosure notice had been issued and had not been complied with – under article 42 of JKX’s articles of association and that the company’s directors acted for an improper purpose. Notably, section 793 of the Companies Act 2006 provides a public company the power to issue a statutory disclosure notice to any person whom it knows or reasonably believes to be interested in its shares. According to the Supreme Court, in circumstances where a company’s board of directors was entitled under the company’s articles of association to issue a disclosure notice against a shareholder and where the board was further entitled – in the event that they knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the statements given in response were incorrect – to restrict the shareholder’s right to attend or vote at any general meeting of the company, any such restriction would be invalid if the board’s purpose in making the restriction had been to prevent the shareholder voting at the meeting.

Lord Sumption gave the main judgment and Lord Hodge agreed with him. Lord Mance and Lord Neuberger agreed that the appeals should be allowed, but they preferred to not to express a view on aspects of the reasoning. Moreover, Lord Clarke agreed, but expressed a preference to defer a final conclusion on those aspects until they arise for decision and have been fully argued. Prior to this decision, the case had been reported in the Court of Appeal as [2014] Bus LR 835 and in the High Court as [2014] Bus LR 18. JKX Oil & Gas Plc, an English company listed on the London Stock Exchange, was the parent company of a group involved the development and exploitation of oil and gas reserves, primarily in Russia and the Ukraine. From that perspective, Lord Sumption used the opportunity to apply his unrivalled expertise on both company law and Russia to the present case. The exercise of a discretionary power by directors tends to be challenged on the ground that it does not promote the success of the company, a subjective question as regards the company’s business interests. Read the rest of this entry »





Tom Hayes: LIBOR Fraudster’s Sentence Reduced, But Conviction Upheld

29 12 2015

750x-1Regina (Respondent) v Tom Alexander William Hayes (Appellant) [2015] EWCA Crim 1944 (21 December 2015)

In this redacted judgment, the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) upheld Tom Hayes’s conviction but reduced his brutal sentence from 14 years to 11 years. The clawback of three years will come as a blow to the resurgent fortunes of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd CJ, Sir Brian Leveson PQBD and Gloster LJ reduced the sentence because Hayes was not in a managerial position and also suffered from autism (see here). Expressing mixed emotions about the outcome of his appeal against conviction and sentencing Hayes said that he “was immensely disappointed” by the overall result but was nonetheless “relieved and grateful” that the “immensely disproportionate” sentence passed by Cooke J was reduced. “I never asked for a dishonest or inaccurate LIBOR rate to be submitted. I was at secondary school when these practices started,” is how Tom Hayes still places himself in the grand scheme of things. The three judges found that Cooke J was right to conclude that the expert evidence sought by Hayes was of low probative value. He initially entered into an agreement with the prosecution under section 73 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) in order to avoid extradition to the US but later withdrew and changed his plea to not guilty. In more ways than one, Hayes is somewhat of a comeback kid and Cooke J had called him a “gambler”.

However, the Court of Appeal held that ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people, rather than the standards of the market or a group of traders, determined judging the extent to which a banker had acted dishonestly in manipulating financial markets. The court was clear that an example had to be made of Hayes so as to deter others with similar ideas from misbehaving. “I continue to maintain my innocence. I look forward to pursuing every avenue available to me to clear my name,” is how he intimated a possible appeal to the Supreme Court. In relation to his conviction, Hayes advanced six grounds of appeal but was granted permission to appeal on only one. The details contained in paragraphs 38 to 60 of the court’s judgment cannot be reported until the conclusion of Trial 2 (see here) before Hamblen J. Read the rest of this entry »





Case Preview: FCA v Macris: FSMA and Third Party Rights

17 12 2015

On 3 November 2015, a panel of Supreme Court justices consisting of Lord Neuberger (President), Lord Clarke, Lord Hodge granted permission to appeal in the case of Financial Conduct Authority (Appellant) v Macris (Respondent) Case No: UKSC 2015/0143. In proceedings reported as [2015] EWCA Civ 490, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the FCA’s appeal against the decision of the Upper Tribunal, reported as [2014] UKUT B7 (TCC). Longmore, Patten and Gloster LJJ held that Mr Achilles Macris, a Greek and US citizen, was identified and should have been given the right to make representations on certain matters set out in the final notice. The issue thrown up by the case is whether the FCA’s notices identified Macris for the purposes of section 393 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA) in which case the watchdog ought to have given him third party rights. The third party procedure secures the fair treatment of the reputation of third parties so that they are not presumed guilty in the enforcement process. Developments in these proceedings are keenly monitored by those who contend that they have not been given a right of reply despite being identified in FCA notices.

As regards identification, on 18 September 2013 the FCA gave a Warning Notice, a Decision Notice, and a Final Notice to JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (the firm). All the notices were in identical terms and on 19 September 2013 the Final Notice (the notice) was published. It informed the firm about the imposition of a financial penalty, or conduct costs, of £137.61 million which was settled under the FCA’s executive settlement procedures. The firm was penalised as a result of losses incurred in the “synthetic credit portfolio” (the portfolio) it managed for its owner JP Morgan Chase & Co (the group), a corporate entity branded – by Michael Lewis’ controversial bestseller Flashboys – as mostly “passive-aggressive” but occasionally “simply aggressive”. The portfolio’s trading related to credit instruments, especially credit default swap indices. The firm is a wholly owned subsidiary of the group. Read the rest of this entry »