Nick Ractliff is “a superb asset recovery lawyer” with strong experience handling civil fraud, banking and financial services litigation proceedings involving asset recovery.
Nick is a specialist in high-value, complex, international civil fraud and asset recovery work. He has worked on some of the largest cases commenced and conducted in the English courts with extensive experience of obtaining search, freezing and disclosure orders in ground-breaking cases requiring creative and innovative solutions that have tested and pushed the legal boundaries.
Describe your career to date.
Before joining PCB Litigation in 2009, I spent the majority of my time practising within the commercial litigation departments of two mid-tier City firms. I spent a small time as a member of a small team of former City-based lawyers that set up a commercial litigation practice within a boutique firm specialising in immigration and extradition work. I also had a short period working in-house for a US-owned financial services provider.
Burford Capital have recently agreed a deal with PCB Litigation. How will this benefit your clients interested in asset recovery, and influence your work more broadly?
It means that in addition to benefitting from PCB Litigation’s experience and strategic oversight in formulating and putting into action creative legal solutions for the recovery of assets, clients will also have access to Burford Capital’s long-standing and successful reputation in funding claims. This will provide a more streamlined process for clients with both legal and financial experts working together to find them a solution to aid recovery in a market where clients are going to be faced with increasing financial challenges in bringing claims.
Sources have noted an increase in cyber fraud. How might this trend affect the disputes you encounter?
It is creating new challenges in identifying the fraudsters and tracing lost assets. We are seeing an increasing number of push payment frauds where the fraudsters have hacked into an email account and either impersonated or used it to divert payments away from the recipient. By the time that both the fraud and its perpetrator have been identified the proceeds may have been transferred through a number of various accounts. There is therefore an increasing importance in being able to provide victims with effective and speedy solutions.
What different or additional investigative methods are required for recovering funds which end up in cryptocurrency?
In some cases, cryptocurrencies can be easier to trace than cash because there is a full publicly available transaction history. Expert investigators are able to use sophisticated software to map individual units of cryptocurrency from one digital wallet to the next. From an asset recovery perspective, the key is therefore to identify the entry and exit points between cryptocurrency networks and “real world” assets. These gateways are largely controlled by exchanges, so obtaining information/documents from them using the disclosure relief against third parties available from the court could prove vital in collaboration with specialist investigators in making successful recoveries.
What effect are you anticipating AI to have on asset recovery proceedings?
The scale of information and data that is generated now by advances in technology, increasing computer processing powers, electronic storage and the cloud means it is at a level where it is increasingly difficult to sort and analyse without the use of AI. This is only going to increase. Although it will greatly assist in the gathering and analysis of information, it will not completely take over the human element of the decision making, strategic and creative elements of the asset recovery process.
How are you anticipating the economic downturn will impact the asset recovery and litigation arenas?
The usual consequence is an increase in the asset recovery and litigation arenas. There is no reason to think it should not be the same on this occasion. There is no doubt that practitioners are gearing up for the downturn, the inevitable increase in insolvencies and the litigation that will follow as creditors look to recover their losses. The significant difference this time is the prevalence and availability of litigation funding in the market to address the financial challenges that may have stifled avenues of recovery and litigation in the previous economic downturns.
How do you anticipate your practice developing in 2021?
The practice has expanded significantly in the last two to three years. We see this continuing into 2021 particularly if the predicted increase in asset recovery and litigation work happens as a result of the economic consequences of covid-19. This is particularly so given the arrangement with Burford Capital, which puts PCB Litigation in a very healthy position to take advantage of any upturn in that work.
What key skills and traits would you encourage the next generation of asset recovery experts to develop?
They must be prepared to get to grips with and process the detail, but at the same time think with a clear mind, not over complicate matters and develop creative solutions from simple building blocks. They will have to learn and adapt to deal with issues thrown up by the advances in technology, increasing amount of data that is generated, the increases in cyber fraud and the development of electronic assets such as cryptocurrencies creating circumstances where the identity of fraudster and his assets is becoming increasingly less visible.
“Specialist asset tracer” Nick Ractliff is a respected figure in the asset recovery field who is well versed in large asset recovery, fraud and regulatory disputes proceedings.
Nick is a specialist in high-value, complex, international civil fraud and asset recovery work. He has worked on some of the largest cases commenced and conducted in the English courts, and has extensive experience of obtaining search, freezing and disclosure orders in ground-breaking cases requiring creative and innovative solutions that have tested and pushed legal boundaries.
What has been your most interesting case to date?
Given the nature of civil fraud and asset recovery cases, and the complexities that are involved, almost every case is interesting because of the challenges that are thrown up. The most challenging from a legal perspective, and, therefore, the most interesting, was acting for an overseas bank against an individual who had guaranteed loans made by the bank to his business. Having obtained a freezing order and judgment against the individual, we enforced the latter against him by satisfying the court that he was the beneficial owner of certain interests held by a Liechtenstein foundation. This allowed the court to appoint receivers to take control of those interests and use their powers to take steps to realise valuable properties in Italy for the purposes of enforcement.
What part of your current role do you enjoy the most?
The leadership and strategic decision-making in the management of fast-moving and intense litigation. By way of example, last year I managed a team that obtained search and freezing orders in a £1.3 billion banking fraud claim. In the subsequent 10-week period, we experienced an intense period of activity involving numerous enforcement issues and hearings while continuing to conduct the search of electronic documents and successfully preventing the defendant from pursuing a discharge application.
What are your strategies when seeking disclosure orders and obtaining information about assets?
These centre around how to exert pressure on the fraudster or debtor to comply with disclosure orders and what information may be available from third parties. The threat of committal for contempt is a powerful tool in ensuring compliance. The court also has useful powers for the purposes of obtaining information and documents from third parties. In the case of assets, it is important to review any disclosure forensically, particularly against other evidence, to identify any holes and evidence of non-compliance. For example, an individual’s asset disclosure may not be consistent with other evidence that suggests he or she is able to finance a high-level expenditure.
How do you see cryptocurrency forming a part of your practice in the future?
It is already making, and will continue to have, an important impact on our practice in terms of its use by fraudsters to misappropriate and hide assets from their creditors, and by lawyers having to understand and work closely with technology experts to be able effectively freeze, trace and enforce against it as an asset.
How effective are unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) in assisting victims?
UWOs were introduced with a considerable amount of publicity and fanfare following the implementation of the Criminal Finance Act 2017. However, their use is limited to the governmental investigation agencies, in particular the NCA, to put pressure on serious criminals, PEPs and their associates by relying on evidence to the civil evidence standard of proof. Other than making life difficult for individuals who are the subject of a UWO, they provide no benefit for the victims of their crime or conduct in terms of providing recompense for the loss they have suffered.
In your opinion, why are civil remedies more attractive compared to criminal remedies for victims to pursue?
The civil courts have a wider and more flexible range of remedies available to the victim with a lower the burden of proof. In conjunction with developments in, and increasing availability of, financing, particularly with the maturing and ever-creative litigation funding market, this is making the civil court more easily accessible for the victims of fraud compared to the criminal process, which is slow, restricted in its remedies and facing an increasing lack of funding.
What is PCB Litigation doing to expand its offering and set itself apart from its competitors?
The firm always tries to set itself apart by giving the client a nimble, flexible service, with leadership and teams that contain problem-solvers with creative solutions. It is currently in a period marked by a change of leadership and expansion; we are looking to move into areas that complement the service the firm provides and the experience it has in asset recovery, with particular focus on cross-border insolvency, and investigations and regulatory work. It is also seeking to use its experience in terms of the enforcement of awards and obtaining appropriate relief from the court in support of proceedings to increase its offering in arbitration.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
It was received as an article clerk from my supervising partner. It was, “Keep it simple.” Adopting such an approach and stripping them back to basics can help to see you through some of the most complex cases and issues. Sometimes it is very easy to overthink and add unnecessary complexity to matters that are not straightforward.
"Nick is committed to and fights extremely hard for his clients"
"Nick is a real pleasure to work with and against"
"He is fantastic for asset tracing and a true gentleman"
Nick is a partner of PCB Byrne LLP. He conducts high value, complex and multi-jurisdictional asset recovery and civil fraud cases. He has worked on some of the largest cases commenced and conducted in the English High Court, and has extensive experience in obtaining freezing, search and disclosure orders involving creative and innovative strategies resulting in ground-breaking solutions that test the legal boundaries.
His cases include VTB v Skurikhin, where the client was able to satisfy the court that the judgment debtor had sufficient control of a Liechtenstein foundation to enable it to appoint an equitable receiver over underlying interests owned by the foundation; BM Bank JSC (formerly OJSC Bank of Moscow) v Chernyakov, where during the course of the enforcement of a judgment for a sum in excess of £200 million the client obtained orders to seize and search electronic data from devices taken in to the possession of the Court Enforcement Officer following the execution of a writ of control resulting in the disclosure of information leading to the committal of the judgment debtor for contempt of court for a failure to provide adequate asset disclosure; and recently Vneshprombank v Georgy Bedzhamov in obtaining search and freezing orders in support of £1.34 billion claim and subsequently preventing the Defendant from challenging the terms of that order.Nick is recognised by many of the directories. His hands-on approach is welcomed by clients. He is described as incisive, very strong-minded, and a highly effective manager of large-scale litigation.