Colette Wilkins is a leading commercial litigator specialising in high-value asset recovery, contentious insolvency, hedge fund disputes, issues relating to corporate governance and fraud. Colette practised as a barrister in London (Lincoln’s Inn) before being admitted as an attorney in the Cayman Islands in 2005. Colette frequently advises office-holders in complex cross-border liquidations, representing creditors and liquidators in determining and protecting interests in insolvent estates. Colette has appeared in many leading cases in the Cayman Islands and led the team at Walkers in successfully defending multibillion-dollar claims brought against SICL and Singulars.
What is it about asset recovery litigation that you enjoy most?
The teamwork involved in coordinating multi-jurisdiction asset recovery makes this work particularly enjoyable.
What skills make a successful asset recovery lawyer?
Familiarity with the tools available to obtain and sift information, and strong analytical skills are essential. The ability to consider every step available to the party paying for the work is critical; we should never lose sight of the fact that as service providers we must provide value. Asset recovery work also requires a broad understanding of the assistance that might be available from other jurisdictions, since most work will involve a cross-border element.
Does your experience in company and insolvency law affect your approach to asset recovery?
Yes, in two respects. Firstly, knowing how to collapse structures that have been used in a fraud is a key part of the asset recovery toolkit. Secondly, decades of experience working with office holders leads to a strong appreciation of what they need to maximise recoveries.
What impact have tightened money-laundering rules around the world had on your practice?
We are told it is more difficult to open a bank account in the Cayman Islands than the United States, so the Cayman Islands would not be the jurisdiction of choice for any fraudster hoping to deposit ill-gotten gains. My first exposure to a fraud claim as a pupil barrister 30 years ago involved an instruction for an employer whose employee had managed to open a personal bank account using a (false) name very similar to that of the employer. The then employee paid into the personal account cheques made payable to the employer and was able to withdraw the funds. Thankfully bank due diligence and AIML means it should no longer be possible to carry out such an unsophisticated fraud.
Business has become much more global over the years. What impact has this had on asset recovery practice in offshore jurisdictions?
Offshore jurisdictions are usually just one part of an asset recovery exercise. It would be rare these days to deal with asset recovery that did not have a cross-border issue. Increasing care needs to be taken to ensure that the correct forum is chosen for the main litigation to avoid challenges.
What makes Cayman courts such attractive forums to recover assets?
The quality of lawyers and judges in the Cayman Islands is second to none. In the recent AHAB v SICL litigation the Grand Court and its Chief Justice demonstrated the ability of the Cayman courts to deal with one of the largest fraud cases ever tried in the common law world, employing the latest trial technology to great effect.
How do you expect offshore asset recovery practice to develop over the next five years?
Increased use of insolvency law in cross-border cases is likely, with potential for increasing communication and cooperation between courts. E-discovery is likely to continue apace, with artificial intelligence driving down the cost of document review, freeing up lawyers from the more mundane sifting tasks and able to add value by more focused document review. As litigation funding becomes more prevalent and accepted in different jurisdictions the prospect of victims of fraud having the means to seek asset recovery will increase.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field?
Keep on top of new developments, read as much as you can about developments in jurisdictions other than your own and be prepared to work extremely hard!