Matt Richardson is a director in Grant Thornton’s team in the British Virgin Islands. He’s licensed to act as an insolvency practitioner in the BVI and has extensive experience in corporate recovery services, primarily in contentious cross-border insolvency and fraud involving international litigation, asset tracing, fraud investigation and the realisation of complex and illiquid assets. He has been described in WWL: Asset Recovery Experts as “one of the very best in the asset recovery space”.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
I joined the recovery team of one of the Big Four firms in the UK in 2000, where I qualified as a chartered accountant. Between then and 2008 I worked on traditional English insolvencies, mainly trading insolvent businesses in the north of England that were in receivership, liquidation or administration.
In 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, I moved to the BVI. I very quickly found myself involved in a wide range of large and complex cross-border matters, including the liquidation of investment funds which had been defrauded (including Madoff feeder funds), shareholder disputes involving allegations of fraud and global asset recovery efforts.
Prior to joining Grant Thornton, I established and ran the office of a global firm specialising in contentious insolvency and asset recovery. I joined Grant Thornton in January 2018, and thoroughly enjoy working with my colleagues in the BVI and the wider Grant Thornton teams.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT PRACTISING IN THE ASSET RECOVERY SPACE?
We frequently work for the victims of fraud, so a primary driver is the satisfaction of making recoveries for the victims.
There’s also the thrill of the “hunt”: fraudsters often use complex structures and mechanisms to conceal the fraud and to hide the proceeds. We have to investigate what has happened, identify what assets have been dissipated to where and to whom, and then implement a strategy to preserve and recover these assets. This often involves a wide range of skills including forensic analysis of records, investigation tools, and legal actions in a wide range of jurisdictions.
The work is very varied and challenging but enormously satisfying.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES ASSET RECOVERY EXPERTS FACE WHEN WORKING ON CROSS-BORDER MATTERS?
We often see assets or the proceeds of fraud being dissipated from the company through numerous parties, often faceless shell companies with nominee directors and shareholders, in a large number of jurisdictions.
It can often be difficult or prohibitively expensive to follow every lead, which makes investigating and making recoveries from a well-designed fraud difficult. Our challenge is to identify the key parties and jurisdictions where information and assets may be located and to focus on those.
We’re often dealing with multiple jurisdictions: what may be feasible in the BVI or other common-law countries may not be feasible in other countries. A key challenge in our role is often determining what relief is available in other countries and factoring that into our strategy.
ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR TRENDS/DEVELOPMENTS YOU ARE SEEING IN YOUR WORK IN BVI?
We’re seeing a significant increase in the use of court-appointed receivers.
We may be appointed simply to ensure that the assets of the BVI company are preserved pending the outcome of the proceedings. Or we may be required to investigate the affairs of the company to determine whether assets have been dissipated. We can also be appointed to enforce a judgment, should the applicant obtain judgment in their favour.
The court-appointed receiver is not only available to those who are litigating in the BVI. For example, the BVI Arbitration Act allows a party engaged in arbitration overseas to seek the appointment of a receiver to preserve the value of assets pending resolution of the matter. Grant Thornton BVI and Vietnam were the first court-appointed receivers selected under this legislation, so we broke new ground with that appointment.
HOW HAS THE MARKET IN THE BVI DEVELOPED SINCE YOU MOVED THERE?
The main change is the professionals based here in BVI. During my time here I’ve seen a marked increase in the numbers and quality of insolvency professionals and lawyers.
HOW DOES GRANT THORNTON DISTINGUISH ITSELF FROM COMPETITION IN THE MARKET?
In a number of ways. We have one of the largest dedicated teams of asset-tracing and recovery specialists, supported by a global forensic team, in the world. We’re a truly international firm and often work closely with our wider global network. Over the years, we’ve recovered assets from some of the world’s most challenging jurisdictions.
We are also well known for our innovative and progressive approaches to both funding insolvencies and aligning our remuneration (and that of our professional advisers) to the outcome of the process.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING MATTER YOU HAVE BEEN A PART OF?
It’s hard to choose, but one comes to mind. I was appointed liquidator of a BVI company following an adverse arbitration award of over US$70 million. Upon our appointment we had very little information on the company: we were able to obtain a significant amount of information from parties across the globe (either voluntarily or via court-ordered disclosure). As a result of this we analysed over US$5 billion of transactions made by the company.
We found a number of valuable subsidiaries and other assets, including four Boeing aircraft, owned or paid for by the company. I was looking forward to arresting the aircraft; however the matter settled before that became necessary.