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Money managers under the microscope

Looking ‘Bleak’ for Madoff investors

November 5, 2009

In Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House, a long-running dispute over a legacy only ends when the estate’s assets have been completely devoured to pay the army of lawyers involved in the litigation. Delighted, the lawyers move on to the next case, while one heir of the estate ends up a nervous wreck, his assets all gone.

Madoff investors may feel they are in a similar predicament, watching on helplessly as the scant assets so far recovered dwindle while liquidators and trustees wrangle over how to apportion them.

A recent dispute between Madoff trustee Irvin Picard and the liquidators of the Kingate feeder funds, which lost an estimated $3.5 billion in Madoff’s fraud, involved the trustee, the liquidators Zolfo Cooper and a phalanx of other legal advisors including the liquidator’s British Virgin Islands advisers Whithers BVI; and their US advisers Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges.

BernieThe liquidator advised investors to vote to settle the dispute with the trustee, reasoning that money tied up in legal action against the trustee could not be used in the attempt to recover investor funds or, via requests for restraining orders and the like, to prevent assets discovered from being spirited away.

Would it be naive to think they should all be on the same side, with the goal of recovering as much Madoff money as possible and dividing it among wronged investors?

In what looks like another legal red herring, shareholder group Deminor has announced it is considering bringing a class action, in Amsterdam, against auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers, funds administrator Citco and possibly other companies which provided services to the Fairfield funds, the biggest Madoff feeders with losses of $7 billion or more.

“But class actions against the service providers have already been lodged in the US against and have now been consolidated into one case,” complained one legal adviser.

“All Fairfield investors are covered by that action, not just those in the US, and the New York judges will apply Amsterdam law in the case.  A new action in Amsterdam won’t achieve anything more, but it could even spawn other lawsuits to decide who has jurisdiction over assets recovered, and will almost certainly mean investors have to wait much longer for their money, which protracted litigation will whittle away.”

Aye, there’s the rub. For every day that passes, liquidators, lawyers and a plethora of others attached to the affair have to be paid, leaving ever less in the pot for hapless investors.

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