BNP Paribas bosses opposing Malta summons in antisemitism row for €1 billion damages

British-Israeli millionaire wants BNP Paribas executives to answer questions in Malta court over alleged destruction of his family business’s assets

BNP Paribas chief executive officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafé
BNP Paribas chief executive officer Jean-Laurent Bonnafé

The top two executives of Europe’s second largest bank, BNP Paribas, are opposing a request to be summonsed by a Maltese court, in a lawsuit brought by a private equity group.

BNP Paribas’ CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafé and chairman Jean Lemierre, two of France’s highest-profile executives, are opposing the request by Malta-based Vertical Group, to answer over their alleged involvement in a highly controversial deal in Malta.

Vertical chairman Jacob Agam is alleging the bank tried to discredit him – a financier of British-Israeli background who criticized BNP over its involvement in money-laundering for pariah regimes – as well as of presiding over anti-semitic practices.

British financier Jacob Agam
British financier Jacob Agam

Agam’s civil lawsuit against both executives and BNP itself is for what he alleges was the bank’s deliberate and unlawful destruction of his business’s assets, costing him €1 billion in investment operations because of attacks on his financial standing, and projects suspended.

BNP and the executives dispute the claim. The bank says Agam, 65, and his sister Ruth, 68 had tried to wriggle out of their financial obligations to BNP, by preventing it  from seeking repayment of monies loaned to the siblings’ companies through a novel case: arguing that BNP’s merger with its Singapore arm was invalid since it took place without consent sought from the French finance minister.

BNP has previously argued that the Vertical case should not be heard in Malta, and has claimed it has no business there. They deny the existence of a plot against the claimants and say the claims of antisemitism are conjectures by the claimants which are denied.

Agam and Vertical claim the alleged campaign against his interests started after he raised concerns with BNP following a number of major public scandals involving the bank. In 2014, BNP pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to pay almost $9 billion to resolve accusations it violated US sanctions against Iran, Sudan and elsewhere.

According to Agam’s lawsuit, the bank targeted him by abruptly terminating Vetical’s investment facilities without justification and attempting to seize family properties. Agam alleged that BNP’s lawyer Valerie Lafarge-Sarkozy used anti-semitic language, referring to Jews as “ces gens-là” (“these people”) – a highly derogatory phrase in the French language – and “parasites”.

He accused BNP of retaliating with a smear campaign against him and Vertical Group. The bank rejects the allegations brought.

“My claim is that the bank’s actions against me were partly motivated by racial bigotry and antisemitism. This has been especially hard to live with given BNP’s admitted criminal and unethical behaviour in the recent past,” Agam said in a statement.

“BNP is, quite literally, a scandalous organisation. Bonnafé and Lemierre have presided over those scandals.... for the first time, the CEO and Chairman will be put under the spotlight, required to explain BNP’s controversial involvement in Malta, and to justify its previous claim that it did no business there.”

Agam’s lawyer Pio Valletta said this was an important test-case on the applicability of EUn rules. “It demonstrates that nobody can escape from their statutory duties, not even a mighty organisation like BNP and its management. The recent ruling of the Maltese Court reaffirms the fundamental principle that ‘be you ever so high, the law is above you’. Messrs Bonnafé and Lemierre may preside over the world’s eighth-largest bank. But they and the bank must still submit to a serious examination of their actions before the court.”

Vertical Group Holding is headquartered in Malta, and owned by Jacob Agam, a former diplomat who trained as a lawyer in New York, working for a Wall Street firm.

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