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HSBC sued for ignoring fraud warnings

img_0189HSBC Holdings has been sued for $250 million for allegedly ignoring red flags that a British entrepreneur, the late David Elias, was committing fraud through an investment vehicle he controlled. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by the liquidator of Luxembourg-based SLS Capital SA, which failed in 2009, the same year Elias died. According to the complaint, HSBC had been a custodian of life insurance policies used as collateral for bonds that SLS sold to investors, and which were falsely marketed as safe. Companies in the so-called life settlement business buy life insurance policies on older individuals, and can collect death benefits when the insureds die. Securities backed by such policies are sometimes known as ‘death bonds’. One prominent seller of these bonds was Keydata Investment Services, which had business dealings with SLS, and whose sale of the bonds caused big losses for thousands of UK pensioners. It also also failed in 2009. According to the lawsuit, SLS began selling bonds in 2005, with investors buying them directly from the company, or buying bonds issued by Keydata and securitized by SLS. When SLS ran into cash-flow problems, Elias began siphoning investors’ collateral to fund other risky ventures and support his lavish lifestyle of corporate jets, luxury yachts, and island resorts, the lawsuit said. HSBC, for its part, ignored multiple signs of suspicious activity, including that Keydata looked ‘like a Ponzi scheme’ and had ties to Elias, and ‘turned a blind eye’ when Elias sold much of the collateral in a 2008 ‘fire sale’, the lawsuit said.

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