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Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Michael Leeds is one of the foremost asset recovery experts in the world, who is considered “accurate, efficient and excellent to work with”.

Questions & Answers

Michael has 15 years’ experience in cross-border insolvency, asset tracing and recovery. Michael has particular experience of working on international assignments with lawyers and counsel on some of the most complex matters in the market. In particular, Michael has worked on a number of the highest-profile Russian and CIS cases, and he has extensive experience of dealing with assets and structures in Cyprus, Gibraltar, France, the BVI, Cayman Islands, Germany, Spain, India, New Zealand, Italy, Dubai, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the USA and the UK.

What inspired you to pursue a career in asset recovery?

When I started working in insolvency I was fortunate to be involved in a couple of large matters where companies had collapsed and it was necessary to establish the reasons the collapses had occurred. I really enjoyed the investigative aspects of that work; trying to piece together what had happened, who was responsible. I then began working on cases where there were allegations of fraud and again undertaking investigations was key. However, it was also important to identify some form of redress and then I became interested in the asset recovery process through legal means, for example, bringing claims under the Insolvency Act or taking control of structures located overseas. The investigative, strategic and legal elements all come together to make it a very interesting career!

What did you find challenging about entering the asset recovery market?

Persuading people that they need our services. That is still the case!

What is driving the increased activity in enforcement proceedings? How is this affecting the market?

I think that claimants and their advisers are just a lot more savvy about the need to convert a judgment or award into hard cash, and the fact that obtaining the judgment or award is only half of the battle. The real driver for this has been the rise of the litigation funders; they are clearly only interested in financial returns so will look to fund cases only where they can see that the prospects of enforcement are realistic. It has changed the market, in that claimants are having to think far more broadly about their case than just the legal merits, and that brings opportunities for asset recovery specialists to advise on strategies to support the claim.

How do innovative approaches to the use of common law influence your work in asset recovery?

Our work, especially when developing a strategy, is defined by the law and how it develops, and often my team is a part of developing that law through our assignments. What is particularly interesting is seeing what precedents arise in other jurisdictions that could be applied on our cases and trying to apply similar principles to our own work.

What are the challenges of managing a highly international practice?

All our cases have international elements. The main challenges are around time differences; language barriers; understanding local customs and professions; handling assets in one country where ownership is in another country; addressing tax issues on realisations, etc. The list goes on, but these challenges will be overcome by instructing the right advisers!

Where, in your opinion, does the future of asset recovery lie?

This is a constantly evolving field so the future of asset recovery as a profession is very exciting. I am seeing more enquiries in new areas such as family disputes, especially around HNW divorces and deceased estates, and in new regions, such as central Africa. I think that for practitioners it is essential that they can operate flexibly on a global basis, and adapting to technological changes will be key. I also believe that operating as and engaging adviser teams, ie, insolvency practitioners, receivers, lawyers and funders at a much earlier stage of a case will become the norm.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

Cash is king.

WWL says

Michael Leeds is “very business-oriented” and “a go-to for asset recovery matters”. Peers praise him as an expert whose “judgement is very sharp and well balanced”.

Questions & Answers

Michael has over 15 years’ experience in handling asset tracing matters. Michael has particular experience of working on international assignments, which are some of the most complex matters in the market. In particular, Michael has worked on several of the highest-profile Russian and CIS cases, and he has extensive experience of dealing with assets and structures in Cyprus, Gibraltar, France, BVI, Cayman Islands, Germany, Spain, India, New Zealand, Italy, Dubai, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the USA and the UK.

Describe your career to date. 

It has been great fun and an incredible learning curve. The work that I do has constantly evolved, meaning it remains interesting and relevant. Within Grant Thornton, I have had the chance to work with some brilliant people in a hugely collaborative and supportive environment. I have built some great friendships with the advisers I work with. 

What do clients look for in an effective asset recovery expert? 

Innovation, quality of people, international experience, offshore practice, access to finance, commitment and an ability to share risk. 

How has the market changed since you first started practising? 

It is unrecognisable from 10 years ago. When I first started practising, the cases were mainly UK-focused with UK companies, UK directors and UK assets. Cases are now far more international in terms of creditors, location of assets and structures holding these assets. The legal landscape has also changed because of evolving case law – for example, around obtaining freezing orders and the appointment of receivers. It is an ever-changing market and needs full commitment to be successful. 

What makes Grant Thornton distinguish itself from its competitors? 

Innovation, quality of people, international experience, offshore practice, access to finance, commitment and an ability to share risk.  

What are the main challenges and risks you face when handling asset recovery matters for clients? 

Where clients have taken too long to come to a decision to proceed with an asset recovery process, it can be very difficult to have a successful outcome. However, increasingly, clients, funders and lawyers are approaching me a lot sooner in the process.   

How are you handling all steps of the process in the covid-19 lockdown period? 

Not much has changed! It is business as usual. 

Why do you think litigation funding has become more prevalent in the field of asset recovery recently? 

We have created an asset recovery fund for this reason. Historically litigation funders had focused on the “litigation”, in other words, bringing the claims to obtain judgment. But judgment is only part of the story where defendants are reluctant to pay. In order to turn that judgment into cash, it is essential to have some form of enforcement and asset recovery strategy, and usually that strategy involves complex international issues. Therefore, funders are increasingly seeing the need to finance the asset recovery process where they have funded the litigation. Our asset recovery fund is focused on enforcement matters and unlocking some of these cases, and we can do that alongside litigation funders.

Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case you have been a part of?

Working on the estate of Boris Berezovsky. It had everything! It really elevated my experience by handling an extreme case in terms of complexity, intensity and notoriety. Great fun to be a part of!  

Global Leader

Asset Recovery - Experts 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Michael Leeds is “very business-oriented” and “a go-to for asset recovery matters”. Peers praise him as an expert whose “judgement is very sharp and well balanced”.

Biography

Michael Leeds is a partner in the insolvency and asset recovery team at Grant Thornton, and has 15 years’ experience in cross-border insolvency, and asset tracing and recovery. Michael works on international assignments with lawyers and counsel on some of the most complex matters in the market. Michael’s case work is extremely varied and arises from litigation, matrimonial disputes and, more recently, the contentious estates of deceased individuals involving high-net-worth families. 

In particular, Michael has worked on a number of the highest-profile matters to arise out of disputes in Ukraine and Russia, and has extensive experience of dealing with assets and structures in Cyprus, Gibraltar, France, the BVI, Cayman Islands, Germany, Spain, India, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, and the UK.

Michael takes appointments as an Insolvency Practitioner in Cyprus and jurisdictions such as the Seychelles.   

Michael‘s experience includes: acting as receiver for judgment creditors and lenders to realise assets such as shares in offshore companies, aircraft, etc, as well as to enforce their claims and realise their security; as lead trustee in the bankruptcy of Andrey Chernyakov, a Russian businessman with interests in assets situated in multiple jurisdictions around the world and creditor claims of £200 million; as trustee in the bankruptcy of the deceased oligarch Boris Berezovsky, which has involved complex litigation, global asset tracing and realisations; as trustee of an insolvent deceased estate where assets were situated in multiple jurisdictions including Switzerland and Hong Kong, subsequent realisations led to substantial return for creditors; and as an independent administrator of the estate of a deceased individual, once the richest man in Yemen.
WWL Ranking: Recommended

Awards won by Michael Leeds

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