Anthony has specialised in international asset recovery for over 25 years and is recognised in Chambers, The Legal 500 and WWL as a leading expert, having been instructed on many global, high-profile, ground-breaking cases. These guides describe Anthony as a “stellar practitioner” who “navigates complex structures and transactions with ease”, and who has “magnificent client-handling skills”. He is managing partner of PCB Litigation, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading asset recovery law firms.
How has asset recovery work practice changed since you started practising?
The structures used by fraudsters have become ever-more exotic – both in terms of the complexity of the structures used to hide assets and their geographical location.
What motivated you to specialise in asset recovery work?
It is a fascinating and challenging area of law in which to practise – you are always getting to grips with allegations that would not look out of place in a blockbuster novel, while being involved in and developing the cutting edge of the law.
Is it your experience that frauds tend to emerge from insolvencies? What is your experience of this, how does it pan out in practice, and what is driving this trend?
Yes – we are frequently instructed in cases where the defendant (this might be a company, a bank, a joint venture) has collapsed because it has run out of money and the client (a creditor of the defendant) considers that this has happened because the ultimate owner or senior management has stolen it. Then the question becomes “How can this be proved?” and, just as important, “How can any judgment be enforced?” This usually requires careful investigation that involves obtaining disclosure orders in various jurisdictions, the instruction of investigators and forensic accountants, and the creation of a strategy that maximises the prospects of establishing the facts and the location of assets which can be frozen.
Are there any complementary insolvency tools asset recovery specialists can use in their cases?
There are numerous tools. These include S423 Insolvency Act 1986 that provides a remedy where a transaction has been made for the purpose of putting assets beyond the reach of creditors. S423 has become a particularly effective weapon and has even been used to attack lawfully paid dividends but which had been paid for the purpose of putting assets beyond the reach of creditors.
How does PCB Litigation stand out from competitors in the space?
We have been practising in this specialised area of the law for over 25 years and have therefore built up a deep repository of expertise, having acted in numerous heavyweight international asset recovery cases – a number of which established new law and remedies for the victims of fraud. This means that we can point to a track record of success. The nature of our work also means that we attract high-quality lawyers who are attracted by, and thrive upon, the particular challenges that are thrown up by international asset recovery work.
With Brexit on the horizon, how do you think this is changing client demands and practitioners’ approaches to asset recovery work?
In the short term, there has been no change because when a client discovers a fraud, it is important to act quickly and effectively to maximise the prospects of recovery. This is all the more so if there are to be changes to the ability to serve documents, to take evidence and to enforce judgments within the EU as a result of Brexit. Clients should take advantage of the current regimes that seek to streamline and harmonise these processes. Therefore there is every incentive to move quickly, rather than await the outcome of Brexit. Depending upon the shape of Brexit, we will see whether the UK will continue to be in the forefront of asset recovery or whether the lack of an EU coordinated structure means that the UK will be seen by fraudsters as a safe haven for hiding assets.
What are the main challenges you face when securing recognition of judgments in overseas jurisdictions, and how do you ensure you are prepared to meet them?
At the outset of any case it is important to identify the locations where assets are believed to be held, and which judgment is likely to be enforced. This is because, in deciding in which jurisdiction to bring the substantive claim, one of the factors to consider is how enforceable that judgment will be in countries where those assets are located. This will involve consideration of factors such as: whether the defendant is likely to submit to the jurisdiction of the court where the substantive claim is being brought, as this may be a bar to enforcement in certain countries; or whether the form of the freezing order must identify specific assets that are frozen as opposed to more generic descriptions of those assets. It is also important to recognise that there are certain jurisdictions where civil remedies are less developed or accepted as a recognised means of asset recovery, but where it may be possible to achieve a similar result by working with the local police or regulatory authorities. However, in the latter case, it is also important to check that this will not result in the state confiscating any monies it has frozen, rather than returning it to the victim of the fraud.
How would you like to see your firm develop over the next five years?
The methods used by fraudsters to steal money and other assets continually changes to take account of the rapid changes in technology, such as the use of cybercurrencies. Our firm has been growing for a number of years. To take account of those changes, our plans include accelerating that growth by encouraging our next generation of lawyers to be at the forefront of future developments in international asset recovery, and further developing our services in complementary areas of the law.
Anthony Riem is praised as “a fighter for his clients” and “a specialist asset tracer” who is “always seeking to innovate”.
Anthony is the managing partner of PCB Litigation and founding member of the Commercial Fraud Lawyers Association. He has specialised in international asset recovery for 30 years. During the course of his career, he has successfully devised creative strategies to attack assets hidden in complex structures in jurisdictions around the world. In doing so, he has built and managed teams of international experts, obtaining groundbreaking orders in several jurisdictions, including Cayman and the BVI as well as in England.
What do you enjoy most about working in international asset recovery?
Undoubtedly, the challenge of unravelling what has happened in terms of the fraud and finding the assets. Invariably, this involves working with fellow experts in jurisdictions across the world – not just lawyers but investigators, forensic accountants and experts in the particular subject matter of the fraud. Bringing together a team of like-minded experts is both stimulating and challenging, and it is the fostering of dialogue within the team that often leads to the creation of groundbreaking strategies that win cases for clients in difficult cases.
What are the challenges involved in recovering assets internationally and across borders?
One of the main issues is the differing approaches of jurisdictions to asset recovery. This is not about the respective merits between common law and civil law legal systems, as both provide a route map by which fraudsters can be targeted. Unfortunately, there are certain countries that appear quite content to allow fraudsters to game their legal systems and protect their assets, which can make the task of effective asset recovery that much more difficult and time-consuming.
It has always been the case that the ability to act quickly can often make the difference between recovering assets and not doing so. The growth of cybercrime, with money being stolen from bank accounts by fraudsters interposing themselves as the recipients of transfers, and the use of cryptocurrencies both accentuate that need. While cryptocurrencies are traceable, speed is of the essence as otherwise they can become lost once they are transferred into countries whose systems make effective asset tracing very difficult.
Another major issue is access to justice, an issue that is likely to have even greater resonance in the light of covid-19. Third-party funding may well prove to be fundamental, and may make the difference between victims of fraud who have such access and those who do not. It is for this reason that we have spent considerable time developing our own funding capacity.
Do you think there would be some benefit for having a model law in asset recovery?
There is certainly some benefit in having a model law. This was discussed at an UNCITRAL meeting of experts convened by the UN, and we presented a paper on the matter. While it may take time to draft a model law, for it to work, it is essential that there are effective sanctions to punish jurisdictions that do not adopt it, and that victims of fraud have access to a legal system that they can afford to use.
There is an increasing cross-over between white-collar crime, regulatory and asset recovery law. What common threads do you see between these areas?
Victims of fraud may not be limited to bringing civil claims to recover their assets. Where there have been breaches of criminal law, we have commenced criminal investigations and involved regulators as well as taken advantage of criminal convictions to obtain recoveries. Similarly, frauds have exposed weaknesses in systems where we have created policies to be put in place to ensure both regulatory and criminal compliance. This is a growing area of our practice.
What impact are sanctions having on asset recovery practices?
While sanctions can have an impact on the ability to act on behalf of certain persons, they also provide sources of work – not only in relation to challenging the legitimacy of those sanctioned, but also in drafting regulatory compliance programmes. This is another growing area of our practice.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
Building a pre-eminent asset recovery practice over the past 30 years, which we have now expanded to cover white-collar crime, regulatory and compliance matters as well as sanctions advice.
What advice would you give to aspiring asset recovery lawyers?
Asset recovery is a vocation, not a job. It requires absolute dedication because fraudsters do not abide by the rules. They are dedicated in their desire to defeat your client. You have to be even more dedicated to defeat them. If that challenge is for you, then asset recovery is for you!
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Never forget we deal in the business of law. It reminds me that our role is not only to provide the best commercial advice, but also to run our practices as businesses.
Anthony Riem is recognised as a preeminent name for fraud investigation and litigation briefs, notably when it comes to representing banks in high-value litigation proceedings.
Anthony is the managing partner of PCB Litigation LLP and has specialised in international asset investigation and recovery for 30 years. His expertise is recognised in Chambers, The Legal 500 and WWL. Most recently, in December 2019, he was invited by UNCITRAL to participate in its inaugural colloquium on asset tracing as an acknowledged expert in the field.
The directories describe Anthony as a “stellar practitioner” who “navigates complex structures and transactions with ease”, a “wonderful operator with particular expertise dealing with, and against, offshore firms”, “tremendous” and “great for complicated cases” with “magnificent client handling skills” while being “very energetic and active in pursuing his goals”.
Anthony’s cases often involve the management and coordination of proceedings in several jurisdictions at any one time, and many have been high-profile and groundbreaking in England and abroad, and reported in the legal press. He is currently leading the international enforcement of a US$600 million judgment where the defendant has taken elaborate steps to avoid payment; and a US$250 million claim where he has successfully joined new parties to the claim, having previously secured the continuation of a US$250 million worldwide freezing order. Anthony has also successfully defended clients in cases where there have been allegations of fraud. Most recently, he has defended one client in a US$100 million claim where the court found the claimant had been paid to give untrue evidence about his client; and another client in a US$200 million claim where the court set aside service on him because it found the bribery claim against his client had no reasonable prospect of success.
The directories have identified PCB as a leading litigation practice, and describe the team as “constantly appearing in high-quality work", “simply outstanding”, “extremely skilled” and a “highly regarded litigation boutique”. The Times describes PCB as "solicitors to the banking community" and “operating across a global landscape, recovering and protecting clients’ assets over borders and through multiple jurisdictions”.