Malta court to decide on summons for BNP Paribas CEO in Agam €1 billion suit

Court to determine whether chairman and the CEO of BNP Paribas can refuse to comply with summons to give testimony in Malta in €1 billion lawsuit filed by financier Jacob Agam

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

A Maltese court is to determine whether the chairman and the CEO of one of the world’s largest banks, BNP Paribas, can refuse to comply with a previous summons issued by it and give testimony in Malta in the €1 billion lawsuit filed by Vertical Group Holding, a Maltese investment house and its founder and chairman, the Malta-based, British-Israeli businessman Jacob Agam.

The lawsuit was filed against the bank, its chairman Jean Lemierre and CEO Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, after Agam accused it of committing a campaign of destruction against Agam’s Maltese assets he alleged to be “inspired by anti-Semitism and hate.”

British financier Jacob Agam
British financier Jacob Agam

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 Vertical’s loan facilities without justification and attempting to seize properties belonging to his family. Agam, who is Jewish, also alleged that BNP’s French lawyer Valerie Lafarge-Sarkozy used anti-Semitic language when referring to him.

BNP however say Agam, 66, and his sister Ruth, 69, had tried to wriggle out of their financial obligations to BNP, by preventing it  from seeking repayment of monies loaned to the siblings’ companies, using the argument that BNP’s merger with its Singapore arm was invalid since it took place without consent sought from the French finance minister.

Agam – who resides in Malta – and his private equity investment company Vertical, filed their own legal claim in Malta against the bank and its Lemierre, Bonnafé and Lafarge-Sarkozy.

Although the bank said it has no business in Malta, Agam and Vertical claim that the actions of the bank and its executives have affected his and his company’s business and reputation, allegedly resulting in damages of as much as €1 billion.

Agam also claims such alleged misconduct caused significant harm to Maltese employees, individuals and assets in Malta and alleged that they were “inspired by antisemitic motives and actions”.

But the case has stalled on whether a decree in-camera given by Judge Joseph Zammit Mckeon back in August 2020, on whether Bonnafé and Lemierre should take the stand as witnesses and as required by law, can be appealed.

This became an issue following a court sitting held last November when the court, one day before the sitting scheduled on 3 November, reversed its own previous ruling and exempted the bank’s executives from appearing in court to take the stand.

The November hearing was scheduled to address, amongst other reasons, questions regarding the bank’s and its executives’ alleged role in the Electrogas deal, even though the bank had previously denied any involvement with Maltese businesses.

Following Agam’s testimony, the bank and its executives had filed a motion requesting the right of appeal from the court order which summoned them to appear in the first place.

A representative for Agam said that the bank’s defence lawyers have suggested that the bank could send persons other than the defendant executives to testify.

Lawyer Pio Valletta, appearing on behalf of Agam and Vertical described the bank’s suggestion as an “absurd request which makes a mockery of the court and the law.”

Valletta described as “bizarre and unheard of” the notion of assigning witness testimony to a third party.

“This would allow the CEO and Chairman to escape their fundamental legal duties to appear in order to give account as to their respective role in the alleged misconduct claimed by Agam and Vertical to include their role in the Electrogas transaction,” he said.

During the hearings held on 4 February, Valletta reminded the court that the Judge’s ruling of last August was final and non-appealable according to Maltese law.

Valletta accused the bank of employing delaying tactics to stall the case until the retirement – just a few weeks away – of Mr Justice Mckeon, who had repeatedly questioned the reasons behind the bank’s top executives’ reluctance to appear in court.

Agam’s lawyers and publicists are considering the request for an appeal as a delaying tactic to avoid BNP top brass from coming to Malta. They even suggest that they could be questioned over attempts to help finance the Electrogas project, although this claim has not been backed up as of yet. Agam is insisting there is a direct link between the bank and Electrogas.

The bank had initially argued that the Maltese courts held no jurisdiction over this case since it had no business here in Malta. trogas.

In previous testimony Agam claimed that not only did BNP Paribas do business in Malta with his company, but that that the bank’s transactions in Malta were “fraught with allegations of corruption, blatant illegalities and causing severe damages to Maltese interests and individuals.”