Yves Klein is “fabulous at asset recovery”, laud sources who single him out as one of the heavyweights of global asset recovery practice.
Admitted to the bars of Geneva and Switzerland since 1995, Yves Klein is an international asset recovery lawyer, and a partner at Monfrini Bitton Klein. His main activity is litigating and coordinating transnational asset recovery proceedings before civil, criminal and bankruptcy courts on behalf of victims of economic crimes. He is representative for Switzerland of ICC FraudNet, the world’s leading asset recovery network. He is fluent in French, English, Portuguese and Spanish, and speaks some Italian and German.
When did you decide to pursue a career in law?
After having studied law and international law at the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute of Geneva, I originally intended to work in international relations. However, while living in Washington, DC, I started by chance to work for a local law firm active in Latin America, which made me decide to start a legal career when I returned to Geneva.
What motivated you to specialise in the area of economic crime?
Since the 1980s, I have been interested in the fight against money laundering. In the early 1990s, the first Swiss laws that extended the predicate offences of money laundering to economic crime were adopted, which gave teeth to the fight against economic crime and allowed me to build an asset recovery career. In a more general way, restoring justice by depriving wrongdoers from their ill-gotten gains and compensating victims of economic crime is a very strong motivation.
How has the role of the international asset recovery lawyer changed over your career?
In the late 1990s, when I started working on my first asset recovery cases in Switzerland, they were already international by nature. However, what was then missing was the lack of international networks of highly experienced asset recovery professionals one could turn to in other countries. Twenty years have passed since those early ages, and the existence of such international networks, either formal (eg, ICC FraudNet) or informal, allows one to rapidly assess available legal remedies to devise and implement the most effective asset recovery strategy.
To what extent has technology transformed the undertaking of anti-corruption investigations?
In my view, technology has not fundamentally transformed anti-corruption investigations, as the basic ingredients still remain human beings, organisations and laws. Technology has, however, made our work easier and quicker to perform.
How do you overcome the challenges posed by multi-jurisdictional civil proceedings?
By understanding the nature of the different applicable rules and identifying the ways the various legal systems and cultures can work together. An obstacle is only a challenge to the imagination to identify a way to overcome it. With a good case and good arguments, courts will be ready to apply rules in new ways. Building the first bridge between two systems that may look incompatible is the most difficult, but also the most exciting. Once built, the bridge will rapidly become the foundation for a well-travelled road between two legal systems.
What reforms do you expect to see in the coming years with regards to the recognition of foreign judgments and awards?
The Hague Convention of 2 July 2019 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters has the potential of becoming a game-changer, hopefully in the same way the Brussels Regulation and Lugano Convention have been in Europe. One may regret however, that the torts jurisdiction is very limited, which may restrict the effectivity of The Hague Convention in fraud cases.
What advice would you give to younger lawyers starting out in the field?
Be curious about the laws in your own country, they may prove useful in unexpected ways. Try to gain an understanding about different legal systems, ideally by gaining professional experience abroad. Learn other languages, this will allow you to grasp the details of the case directly rather than through imperfect translations, to communicate with the persons involved directly and to gain an understanding of the cultural background of the dispute. Start building an international network, this will not only help you to build your career, but you will form great friendships across borders.
Yves Klein is a Swiss asset recovery lawyer and partner of Monfrini Bitton Klein, a Geneva-based litigation-only law firm focusing on cross-border asset recovery, anti-corruption investigations, business crime and offshore litigation. Admitted to the Geneva Bar in 1995, Yves Klein holds a law degree from the University of Geneva and a diploma of higher studies in international law from the Graduate Institute, Geneva. He speaks French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A LEGAL CAREER?
I did not consider immediately becoming a litigator. What attracted me at first in the legal career was the problem-solving approach to a human science.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO START YOUR OWN FIRM?
In 2017, Enrico Monfrini, David Bitton, James Bouzaglo and I decided to relaunch the law firm that had been created by Enrico Monfrini in 1978, as an internationally oriented business practice, into a litigation-only firm focusing on all aspects of business crime-related cross-border proceedings, in order to take advantage of the core strengths of the firm and its members.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE WHEN SETTING UP MONFRINI BITTON KLEIN?
It was a risk to focus on a relatively narrow segment of legal practice, but it paid off, as in less than two years our brand has become very well known locally and internationally, beyond the individual reputations of its members.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE CASE YOU HAVE BEEN A PART OF?
It definitely is the Nigeria v Abacha case, which was started by Enrico Monfrini in 1999 while I was still an associate in his firm. The mandate started with Switzerland and was expanded within a year into representing Nigeria and coordinating asset recovery proceedings in 10 more jurisdictions. The amount of work and problems to solve was massive! This is a case that in many ways defined the representation of sovereigns in asset recovery cases and had a major influence over my career. Beyond the great human adventure, the case launched me as an asset recovery lawyer and allowed me to expand my practice to commercial and financial fraud, and enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitral awards.
IN JANUARY 2019, AMENDMENTS WERE MADE TO SWISS CROSS-BORDER INSOLVENCY LAW. DO YOU EXPECT THIS AMENDMENT TO AFFECT YOUR PRACTICE?
The Swiss cross-border insolvency regime in force until the end of 2018 systematically required the opening of a Swiss ancillary bankruptcy, with the appointment of a local liquidator whose role was to liquidate Swiss assets and claims while safeguarding the interests of Swiss privileged creditors, even if there were no such creditors. As a consequence, there were less than 60 recognitions of foreign insolvencies in Switzerland between 2010 and 2016 – less than 10 per year – because foreign insolvency practitioners saw Switzerland as a cumbersome, slow and costly jurisdiction. From 2019, the Swiss ancillary bankruptcy may be waived and the foreign officeholders may be authorised to directly act in Switzerland. As a consequence, we expect the number of Swiss cross-border insolvency proceedings to rapidly expand.
WORKING IN ASSET RECOVERY FROM SWITZERLAND INVOLVES COLLABORATING WITH LAWYERS, EXPERTS, AND COLLEAGUES AROUND THE WORLD. HOW DO YOU WORK TOGETHER EFFECTIVELY AS A TEAM?
Switzerland, in particular Geneva, is a hub of asset recovery litigation because of its unique position. First, it remains the main offshore banking centre in the world, with more than one-quarter, or US$2.2 trillion, of the world’s foreign assets under management, to which one should add the professional service providers, such as trustees, directors and family offices. Second, it has become the world’s number-one commodity trading hub, as its global market share is estimated at 35 per cent for oil, 60 per cent for metals and 50 per cent
for sugar and cereals respectively. As a consequence of the presence of assets or evidence in Switzerland, a very large share of cross-border asset recovery proceedings has a Swiss component. This means receiving instructions from and giving instructions to asset recovery professionals around the world. The crucial elements of successfully working as a team are: competence, trust and mutual respect. While working within an existing network such as ICC FraudNet is a great advantage, we very often work with ad hoc teams where the keys to success are: to always use the best professional for the job; to trust the local professionals’ experience; to take into account the particularities and needs of parallel proceedings in very different legal systems; and to circulate information and coordinate proceedings.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR PRACTICE DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
While Enrico Monfrini represents the first generation, and James Bouzaglo, David Bitton and I are the second generation, I expect the next generation to greatly contribute to the firm’s success and reputation. We are favoured by effective Swiss legal remedies for parties harmed by economic crime, through a combination of criminal, mutual assistance, civil and insolvency tools, especially the commitment of Swiss law enforcement authorities to assist such victims when they participate as plaintiffs in criminal proceedings. I am confident that the members of our team will continue to develop creative solutions to achieve redress for our clients.
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?
The most important quality in a lawyer is not skill or intelligence, it is tenacity – as noted by the late Alexandre Hauchmann, who was a partner in our firm until 2000.
Yves Klein is “a great litigator” who is well versed in representing clients in asset recovery and anti-corruption proceedings.
Yves Klein is a partner of Monfrini Bitton Klein, a conflict-free litigation boutique based in Geneva. The firm focuses on asset recovery, business crime defence, anti-corruption investigations, offshore disputes, international judicial assistance, cross-border insolvency, enforcement of foreign judgments and arbitration awards, and the tracing of matrimonial and estate assets.
Mr Klein’s main activity is litigating and coordinating transnational asset recovery proceedings on behalf of victims of economic crimes, or parties seeking to enforce their claims against assets concealed in Switzerland or abroad.
He develops strategies for the international search for and recovery of assets, and coordinates cross-border proceedings. He represents his clients – be they states, liquidators of foreign bankruptcy estates, corporations or individuals – before civil, criminal and bankruptcy courts, in order to recover the proceeds of crimes and to obtain damages from perpetrators and facilitators.
As former chair (2015–2016) of the International Bar Association’s asset recovery subcommittee (anti-corruption committee), Mr Klein has established institutional relationships with the World Bank, the OECD Working Group on Bribery, and anti-corruption law enforcement officials in view of developing best practices regarding the use of civil asset recovery tools in parallel with criminal proceedings.
Mr Klein is the Swiss representative of ICC FraudNet, the leading global legal network for asset recovery, present in more than 70 countries. Since 2013 he has been recognised by WWL as one of the world’s most highly regarded individuals in asset recovery, and is recognised by Chambers for his asset recovery activity. He received the Who's Who Legal Asset Recovery Lawyer of the Year Award in 2019.
He has published on asset tracing and recovery, anti-corruption, and recognition of foreign judgments and arbitral awards since 1996, and regularly presents on these matters at international conferences.