Samuel is an associate director in Grant Thornton’s insolvency and asset recovery department. Over the past 10 years he has specialised in complex, contentious, cross-border insolvency and asset recovery. He has worked in Grant Thornton offices in the BVI, Cayman and London. His cases include the Paulo Maluf Brazilian corruption case; the Stanford International Bank $7 billion Ponzi scheme; the liquidation of Madoff Securities International; and Cameron Farley Ltd, a UK-based £40 million Ponzi scheme.
What motivated you to specialise in the field of asset recovery?
It is an exciting area of work that throws up various daily challenges and problems to resolve. The structures we investigate have been intentionally set up under the guise of “asset protection” and the reward comes from unwinding these complex structures to uncover hidden assets and forming legal claims against the perpetrators.
What do clients look for in an effective asset recovery expert?
Someone with a mix of determination and imagination, who is able to cut through the layers of elaborate complexity and locate hidden assets using a strong network of international professionals. It is important to be commercial in your approach; you cannot spend £100 to recover £50. You need to understand the costs and time scales of launching any actions before proceeding.
What inspired your recent move from the British Virgin Islands to London?
Our insolvency and asset recovery practice is evolving into a global streamlined practice. Our offshore and onshore practices are positioned to go to market as one and provide a responsive, effective service. It was a great opportunity for me to use the skills and contacts built up offshore and join our London team to enhance this offering, and assist in providing an internationally joined-up approach.
What particular challenges are faced when working on cases that have lasted 20 years or more?
The lack of information! The older the case, the more difficult it is to obtain books and records. Even simple things such as bank statements become a hurdle. Service providers have a usual policy to keep records for six years; however, you can usually obtain older documents with enough perseverance. Nothing is ever deleted! We have recently obtained portfolio statements from financial institutions stretching back over 23 years.
Why do you think litigation funding has become more prevalent in the field of asset recovery recently?
A lot of the cases we take on are a result of fraud where assets have been stripped out, leaving a shell company. There may be legal claims and routes to recovery available; however, there are no assets to fund the actions and the creditors are reluctant to fund due to the losses they have already incurred.
With the access to litigation funding we are now able to take these cases on and bring the actions required to make recoveries, therefore allowing all stakeholders to benefit from successful actions.
What are the key barriers when working on cases relating to less regulated offshore jurisdictions?
We are moving to a more transparent world, with laws and regulations coming in to ensure more information is available to the proper parties, law enforcement, liquidators, etc. The problem is that the fraudsters are moving away from the traditional offshore centres to more obscure, less regulated jurisdictions. There are fewer requirements for storing information and there is no established legal system or court process to enforce judgments or recover assets should things go wrong. This will inevitably make recoveries even more difficult and costly.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case you have been a part of?
I think working in Antigua on the Stanford International Bank case was a highlight. Allen Stanford had invested large amounts in the country and was somewhat of a local hero. Unfortunately, the money used was not his. Working in such a small community and seeing how much the liquidation affected the country was very sad.
However, it was good to be part of the rebuilding, selling-off of land and property, and being able to distribute funds to employees. The regeneration of the island continues, and it is good to see them finally playing cricket again in the Coolidge Cricket Ground!
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Find an aspect of your job you enjoy the most, and do more of it!