Man Linked to Money Laundering Aids Litigation Finance Startup – Bloomberg Law

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A Kazakhstan man accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars looted from the country’s largest city and a major bank has signed on as a consultant to his brother’s litigation finance start-up, according to Swiss business records and a court affidavit.

Ilyas Khrapunov, who created shell companies “for the sole purpose of laundering money” according to a federal judge, said in the filing that he’s advising his brother Daniel in Geneva. Daniel Khrapunov founded Litigation Partners, SA in February, according to Swiss Business Registry records.

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Litigation Partners specializes in complex litigation with a particular focus on disputes related to countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, Daniel Khrapunov said in an email interview with Bloomberg Law. For some clients, he wrote, Litigation Partners was a last resort for them to obtain justice. He says the company has four ongoing cases in Switzerland and has successfully monetized its first claim.

Ilyas Khrapunov is an outside adviser and isn’t interested in long-term involvement in litigation funding, his brother wrote. Two people who work in the litigation finance industry for separate companies, and declined to be named, said they met with Ilyas Khrapunov to discuss litigation finance opportunities before and after Litigation Partners was formed. He declined to be interviewed or answer written questions for this story.

Litigation finance is the decade-old industry with approximately $13.5 billion in assets under management in which investors fund lawsuits in exchange for a portion of the award if the case is successful. The US, UK, and Australia are some of the major markets for the industry but Burford Capital and Omni Bridgeway, two publicly traded litigation funders, have employees in Switzerland.

The industry has thrived in part because there is little regulation of funders or transparency, though some US courts have begun to push for more disclosure.

There is no public record of how much capital was used or the source of Litigation Partners’ funding. Daniel Khrapunov said the startup funds were his and originated from a sale in 2020 of Swiss-based real estate purchased in 2004 by his mother. His father was mayor of Almaty, the largest city in oil-rich Kazakhstan, from 1997 until December 2004.

The brothers’ parents, Viktor and Leyla Khrapunov—living in exile in Switzerland after fleeing Kazakhstan in 2007—were convicted in absentia in 2018 of defrauding Almaty out of at least $300 million, according to Radio Free Europe reports. City attorneys alleged in US court filings that Viktor Khrapunov ordered the sale of public property to companies secretly controlled by his wife at a fraction of their worth. Leyla Khrapunov then allegedly sold those companies for multiple times what she paid for them.

They were each sentenced to more than a decade in prison in 2021. Both have been granted asylum by the Swiss government, which found that they would be in danger if they returned home to fight the charges. Both have denied the allegations, saying they were fabricated by a corrupt Kazakhstan government.

The Swiss government closed a money laundering investigation against the family without bringing charges.

Beverly Hills Mansion

Daniel Khrapunov, 27, was a small child when his parents engaged in the acts that led to their criminal convictions in Kazakhstan. But years later, he and his sister Elvira Kudryashova were listed as managers of a California LLC used to buy and sell property with money that, according to a lawsuit filed by Almaty, was looted from the city.

According to California business registry records, the company 628 Holdings was formed by Kudryashova in 2013 —when Daniel was 16— and, according to the lawsuit, paid about $7 million for a mansion on North Alta Drive in Beverly Hills.

By the time it sold in 2016, Daniel Khrapunov “owned or controlled” 628, Kudryashova said in a sworn statement. When the LLC was shut down in 2017, the then-21-year-old Daniel’s signature was on closing paperwork filed with the California Secretary of State’s Office.

In a series of answers to interrogatory questions filed on Nov. 17, 2017, Kudryashova admitted that “accounts held by Daniel Khrapunov contain funds traceable to one or more Kazakhstan transactions.” She gave the statements in response to a 2014 lawsuit filed in California by Almaty against the Khrapunov family, including Daniel, and a string of LLCs.

Some of the family’s money was used to secretly buy at least $35 million in US properties, including the mansion, according to the lawsuit. It was dismissed in 2018 because the city hadn’t shown enough connection between the allegedly stolen cash and California to allow the court to have jurisdiction in the US, a federal judge in the Central District of California ruled.

In response to Bloomberg Law’s questions about his role in 628 Holdings, Daniel Khrapunov said he couldn’t have participated in any crimes alleged by Almaty because he was a full-time student at boarding school in Switzerland at the time.

Ilyas Khrapunov played a leading role in investing the fortunes of his parents and his father-in-law, Mukhtar Ablyazov, Kazakhstan’s former energy minister. Ablyazov, who was convicted by a Kazakh court in 2016 of stealing as much as $6 billion from the country’s BTA Bank, is living in France and fighting extradition to Kazakhstan. Ablyazov told Bloomberg earlier this year that the Kazakh government fabricated the allegations because he formed an opposition political party.

Ilyas Khrapunov created a holding company called Swiss Development Group, using money from his mother after the family fled to Switzerland at the end of 2007, according to rulings by two New York judges and an affidavit by Nicolas Bourg, Ilyas Khrapunov’s partner on dozens of the ventures.

In July 2023, US District Judge John Koeltel upheld a New York jury’s roughly $200 million verdict in favor of BTA Bank against a unit of SDG that Ilyas Khrapunov set up to make real estate deals in the US. Koeltel wrote that Ilyas Khrapunov was the ultimate owner of SDG and other entities, although he and Ablyazov were earlier dismissed as defendants because of the statute of limitations.

Ilyas Khrapunov in Octobertold the New York court he is broke and can’t pay a judgment of $221,000 stemming from an earlier ruling that he destroyed evidence and violated discovery rules while still a defendant. He mentioned his role in his brother’s firm in a one-page update to the court, adding that he is enrolled in a master’s law program to be a litigation consultant.

Few Rules

Unlike in the US, where battles over disclosure of litigation funding are taking place on the state and federal level, Switzerland hasn’t had any pushes for regulation.

In 2004, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court held that litigation funding is permissible provided that the funder acts independently of the client’s lawyer. The court confirmed this decision in 2014.

Isabelle Berger, chief investment officer at Swiss-based Nivalion, says she’s never heard of major disputes involving funders. No political party or group has interest in regulating litigation finance because the firms have been playing by the rules, she said.

Though there is little regulation, Berger doesn’t think funders will suddenly flock to the country. A few firms have solid ground in the space, but Berger said the market is too small to attract sufficient interest from new entities.

Nivalion is regulated by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority because it operates as an asset manager. Otherwise, “the rules are not very strict and there is a lot of freedom to funders,” she said. “But it would be good advice to do more than what the Supreme Court says and is in line with industry standards.”

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