Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Original Story: wsj.com

A banker and a former politician from Kazakhstan tried to launder tens of millions of dollars of stolen money through New York real-estate holdings, a civil lawsuit alleges.

The men allegedly conspired with New York developer Joseph Chetrit to hide at least $40 million by investing in a former Manhattan hotel and the Cabrini Medical Center, according to a complaint filed on Oct. 12 by Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and one of the nation’s biggest lenders, BTA Bank. A New York commercial real estate lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of commercial real estate law.

The Kazakh men, ex-BTA chairman Mukhtar Ablyazov and former Almaty mayor Viktor Khrapunov, are separately under investigation for criminal fraud in Kazakhstan, the complaint says. Mr. Ablyazov is alleged to have stolen billions of dollars from BTA and Mr. Khrapunov is alleged to have stolen about $300 million from Almaty, according to the complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan.

The Kazakh men parked “corrupt assets” in New York City real estate to avoid the scrutiny of escalating international investigations, the complaint alleges. Mr. Chetrit, also a defendant in the lawsuit, was aware of the criminal investigations of the Kazakhs when he agreed to use their money for his projects, according to the complaint. The suit seeks damages of up to $18 billion and was filed by law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. A New Orleans commercial real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

Mr. Ablyazov, who is being held by authorities in France, couldn’t be reached for comment. Previously, he has said he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing and all accusations against him are ungrounded and politically motivated.

Peter Sahlas, an attorney for the Ablyazov family, said the former bank chairman had not been served and was unaware of the New York lawsuit.

The family would consider the suit “just another instance of a corrupt and kleptocratic foreign regime availing itself of the U.S. legal system to carry out its political vendettas,” Mr. Sahlas said in an interview.

A spokesman for Mr. Khrapunov said: “Having obtained nothing after years of proceedings in Switzerland and the United States, Kazakhstan is trying again to use the legal system of a Western country to harass and destroy political opponents.” A Las Vegas commercial real estate lawyer represents clients in commercial real estate defense claims.

Mr. Chetrit and his lawyer didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The suit represents a rare specific legal allegation of money laundering through U.S. real estate.

Foreign buyers in recent years have flooded into major markets like Manhattan, particularly attracted to high-end condominiums, as they seek stable, long-term investments, property analysts say.

But with few disclosure requirements in the U.S. for real-estate transactions—wealthy buyers often preserve their anonymity by making purchases using limited liability companies—money-laundering experts warn the area is ripe for abuse by those looking to park ill-gotten gains. A Greenville commercial real estate lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Because the use of corporate structures to buy real estate has become commonplace, including by legitimate buyers who want to protect their privacy or other assets from liability, a sale to an LLC doesn’t necessarily raise red flags.

Banks and brokerages are far more regulated than real estate and are required to report suspicious activity. Real estate doesn’t face such requirements, which is an “enormous loophole in our financial system,” said Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University.

Mr. Chetrit has done numerous high-profile deals, including for the former Sony Building on New York’s Madison Avenue, which he bought with partners for $1.1 billion in 2013. He previously was a co-owner of the Willis Tower, the former Sears Tower, in Chicago. A Louisville commercial real estate attorney has managed a variety of commercial real estate cases for a wide range of clients.

Mr. Chetrit sold the Kazakh men, through their special purpose vehicle, stakes in two Manhattan properties now closed and being converted into condo buildings, according to the complaint: the Flatotel and the Cabrini Medical Center.

Mr. Chetrit referred to one of the Kazakhs’ contacts with code names like “Jose” and “Pedro” in conversations secretly recorded by an associate of the Kazakhs, according to the complaint.

As chairman of BTA, Mr. Ablyazov directed the bank to make a series of loans to companies under his control that were never repaid to BTA, according to the complaint. BTA in 2009 defaulted on debt held by foreign investors, the complaint says.

Since the default, BTA has filed 11 proceedings against its former chairman and his associates, according to the complaint. U.K. courts have awarded BTA more than $4 billion in damages for claims against Mr. Ablyazov and his associates, the suit says.

In 2012, a U.K. court sentenced him to 22 months imprisonment “for his numerous actions in contempt of court,” the complaint said. Mr. Ablyazov is challenging that judgment at the European Court of Human Rights in France, according to Mr. Sahlas.

The Kazakh banking executive is being held in a French jail, where he has been denied bail three times and is fighting extradition, according to the complaint.

Mr. Khrapunov was mayor of Almaty from 1997 to 2004, coming to power six years after his country declared independence from the former Soviet Union. The complaint alleged he transferred city money to himself and his family through various schemes, including sales of city-owned real estate to his spouse and friends at below-market prices.

Mr. Khrapunov and Mr. Ablyazov pooled their money and initially moved the proceeds to Switzerland in 2007, according to the lawsuit.

The partners created a special purpose vehicle, called Triadou SPV S.A., which was incorporated in Luxembourg, the lawsuit said.

An associate of the two Kazakhs met with Mr. Chetrit in Geneva and said that Mr. Chetrit “expressed sympathy” and said his own family had faced political sanctions in Morocco, according to the complaint.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Original Story: usatoday.com

(NEWSER) – Jonathan Goldsmith doesn't always get sued but when he does, it can get nasty.

The actor best known for portraying the "Most Interesting Man in the World" in Dos Equis ads is being sued for breach of contract by his former talent agency, which claims he has stopped paying commission on the roughly $1 million a year he makes from the ads, according to the Hollywood Reporter. A Boston contract lawyer is following this story closely.

"There is nothing interesting about being a deadbeat or failing to pay those directly responsible for one's career success," the complaint says. "As it now turns out, had Goldsmith landed a role that more accurately portray[ed] his true character, he would have landed the role of 'The Least Honorable Man in the Entertainment Business.'"

Goldsmith's former manager at Jordan Lee, Inc. says Goldsmith, who got the Dos Equis job in 2006 stopped paying the 10% commission a year ago because he felt he had paid "enough," TMZ reports. The lawsuit says the actor's relationship with the agency changed after the agent who got him the role — and is now his wife — left the company, per the Reporter. A Vienna contract lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of contract law.

Goldsmith, whose acting career began in the 1950s, returned to acting and auditioned for the "Most Interesting Man" role after another lawsuit destroyed the business he left Hollywood for, he said in a Forbes interview last month. A Columbia SC contract lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

(In his spare time, Goldsmith has been trying to eliminate landmines in Cambodia.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Original Story: forbes.com

As the prospects of bankruptcy for American Apparel have shifted from “if” to “when,” the company is faced with mounting legal baggage. A bankruptcy filing would automatically pause all lawsuits against the company, but its docket has grown in recent months with complaints from vendors, employees, shareholders and its infamous former CEO, Dov Charney – himself the target of a series of sexual harassment suits. A Toledo bankruptcy lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Last week, the New York Stock Exchange notified the company that it is at risk of being delisted from the exchange. The company has until November 15 to come into compliance with listing standards, but will likely be in bankruptcy court before then. American Apparel is ironing out the preliminary details of a restructuring plan that would see it skip a $14 million coupon payment due October 15 and use the 30-day grace period to drum up revenues during its pivotal Halloween shopping period before filing for Chapter 11, sources have told Debtwire.

Outside the small world of lawyers and bankers who have long eyed a restructuring for the company, American Apparel is as well known for Charney’s antics as it is for its clothing. A 2004 Jane magazine profile described Charney repeatedly masturbating in front of its reporter during interviews, and other stories followed that Charney referred to women as “sluts” and demanded that his store managers fire “ugly” employees. Lawsuits followed, alleging sexual harassment against many of the company’s female employees. A Boston M&A lawyer represents business clients in company restructuring and acquisitions.

American Apparel’s board of directors ousted Charney as chairman in June 2014, with cause – accusing him of refusing to take sexual harassment training and using company funds as hush money for former employees. The board highlighted the mounting legal expenses the company faced while defending lawsuits aimed at Charney, and said that potential financing sources would not deal with the company while Charney was involved.

Following his dismissal, Charney pursued a hostile takeover of American Apparel, reaching a deal with hedge fund Standard General to increase its hold on the company’s stock to 43% and potentially prop up Charney to retake control of the company.  This May, a group led by Eliana Gil Rodriguez, a former American Apparel employee and friend of Charney’s, sued the company in Delaware claiming that the board had concealed a plot to fire Charney after its reelection in June 2014 by issuing false and misleading statements.

But the alliance of Charney and Standard General was short-lived, as Charney filed a suit in June accusing Standard General and American Apparel of conspiring to remove him from the company. The hedge fund filed a lawsuit in July claiming that Charney had not met the financial conditions of the deal.

In September, American Apparel shareholders sued Standard General and board member Joseph Magnacca, the former CEO of RadioShack, claiming that the hedge fund is using the same vulture tactics on American Apparel that it used when it bought RadioShack debt to keep the company out of Chapter 11 before acquiring half its stores in bankruptcy. American Apparel’s shareholders claim that Magnacca and Standard General are too entangled, with Magnacca allegedly texting Standard General’s leader that he would be “anyplace anytime” for the hedge fund.

Vendor The Knit House Corp also sued the company last month, seeking $53,667 it claims was never paid on a fabric merchandise agreement. In June, BSG Tech LLC sued the company for infringement of its sound technology patents. More than 200 employees filed a class action against the company in April, claiming that they were laid off without proper legal notice. A Minneapolis class action lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of class actions lawsuits as related to damage inflicted upon groups of people.

As bankruptcy fast approaches, shareholders are going after Standard General and Magnacca, Standard General and Charney are pursuing each other following their breakup, and Charney at this point is on no one’s team while he continues to make noise. Now Charney’s declaration of good faith at the time of his joining with Standard General has an ironic echo as the family drama comes under the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy judge. A Kansas City bankruptcy lawyer is following this story closely.

“The least important thing was me,” Charney said at the time. “I know that will be dealt with fairly later.”


Original Story: amsterdamherald.com

More than a third of major IT projects in the Netherlands never see the light of day, costing the government up to €5 billion a year, according to a highly critical report by a Parliamentary inquiry.

A commission headed by Liberal (VVD) MP Ton Elias, called for an independent regulator to be set up so that IT specialists can monitor the progress of large-scale projects. An Amsterdam IT lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Projects often failed because those commissioning them lacked the technological knowledge, said Elias. “Things go wrong on every level and at every stage.

“It is one great unsightly mass, with no clear objectives, direction or cost control.” He noted that the lost money “could have been spent on healthcare or defence”.

Elias’s panel looked at a range of IT projects, including the OV chipcard used to pay for public transport and the A73 motorway tunnels. An Amsterdam IT attorney is following this story closely.

It found that 36 per cent of large projects – those with a budget of €7.5 million or more – were aborted before they were put into service. More than half (57%) either went over time or over budget, or did not meet expectations. Just 7% were judged to be successful.

Elias also said Parliament was failing in its duty to oversee projects funded by the public purse.

He said lack of interest and expertise by MPs meant they were not scrutinising the process properly. “Moreover, the provision of information to Parliament by the cabinet is frequently insufficient,” he said.

The commission’s work was hampered by problems obtaining the relevant information from ministers, according to Elias, who urged MPs to be more stringent. “Parliament needs to use its powers and take its scrutiny role seriously.”

The commission recommended that all projects costing more than €5 million be scrutinised by the Office for IT Testing (Bureau ICT Toetsing), which would measure their progress against 10 basic standards.

“The experts would act as a gatekeeper for IT projects. In addition it would drive it into the heads of IT departments that things could, and should, be done differently,” Elias said.


Original Story: amsterdamherald.com

A court has ruled that two cannabis farmers who supplied coffeeshops in Groningen should not be punished because they effectively ran a legitimate business.

The 49-year-old man and his 39-year-old female partner cultivated cannabis on two plantations in Bellingwolde and Bierum. The court heard they used approved biological techniques, paid their electricity bills and even had an arrangement with the tax office. A Sacramento tax lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The prosecution service asked for work orders of 180 and 120 hours to be imposed on the couple, but the court decided they should not be penalized despite finding them guilty. Judges found that the plantations were run responsibly and had no links with the criminal fraternity.

The judgment was greeted with applause and cheering from the public gallery.

Campaigners described the judgment as a “groundbreaking” moment for Dutch drugs policy, which coffeeshop owners have been lobbying for decades to reform.

Officially cannabis is illegal, but the sale of small quantities is permitted under tightly controlled conditions in licensed “coffeeshops”. However, production and supply remain outlawed, leaving cannabis cafes no choice but to buy their wares on the black market. A Melbourne business lawyer represent corporations and small businesses in all areas of general business law.

The judges noted: “The fact that the sale of soft drugs from these coffeeshops is tolerated implies that the coffeeshops have suppliers and, by extension, there are cultivators to meet the demand for produce. The policy does not make clear how this process of supply should take place.”

Magda Berndsen, MP for the centrist-liberal D66 party, told NRC: “This decision by the court is groundbreaking, it opens up the back door for the coffeeshops. [Justice] minister Opstelten’s decision to keep cannabis cultivation illegal is now untenable in the light of this judgment.

“Regulating cannabis production is the only solution to most of the problems that municipalities are struggling with. It will bring down the health risks, free up policy capacity for other priorities

But justice minister Ivo Opstelten, in an initial reaction, signaled that the government had no plans to change its policy.  He described the judgment as surprising, but explained: “I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to tread on the prosecution service’s toes.”

The investigation began in 2009 when police seized more than 2500 plants and eight kilograms of hemp from the two plantations. The couple who ran them chose to contest the case as a “matter of principle”. A Westchester County criminal defense lawyer is following this story closely.

“Prosecuting us is hypocritical,” they told NRC Handelsblad. “Smoking weed is allowed and coffeeshops that sell it are tolerated by the municipality. But anyone who cultivates plants and supplies coffeeshops at the back door is committing an offence. It doesn’t make sense.”

In recent years several municipalities have tried to set up legal supply chains to break the link between coffeeshops and criminality.  But the government in The Hague has blocked all attempts to extend the policy of official tolerance to growers.

Last year the city of Utrecht set up its own cannabis growers’ club and asked the ministry of justice for an exemption, but the public health ministry overruled the initiative.