Swedish millionaire Lars Andersson and his family are going head to head with a top Swiss bank alleging that the latter may be attempting a take over of their vast lands and assets in Geneva taking advantage of a relatively small mortgage, a drop in real estate prices and the patriarch’s fading health.
“Your ethics and lack of transparency leaves a lot to be desired. You are now circling over my property like vultures waiting for my demise,” the 86-year-old Andersson has said in a letter to Tidjan Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse. “I find this treatment dishonest and suspect that your bank does not want me to complete this sale but intends to take this property from me to sell to your own means and purposes,” he said in his missive which will be released to international media on Tuesday.
The News Minute has secured a copy of his letter as well as that of his daughter Susanne Bille Andersson who has written to Urs Rohner, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Credit Suisse. “I am appalled at your methods forcing (my father) who has now been hospitalised yet again, to sell under market value and it certainly looks as though Credit Suisse is subjecting my father to “speculation à la baisse,” Bille Andersson has said in her scathing letter. Credit Suisse has been the family’s bank since the 1940s.
“A foreign government has expressed explicit interest in his property…and just at the time when the negotiations are in their final phase, Credit Suisse demands that my father pay back the loan he has on his property with immediate effect. Your employees have, in writing, threatened that they will take legal action to get control over his property unless my father sells his property during the month of June 2016,” the daughter has told the Chairman of the bank’s board. She told TNM her father’s assets and accounts have been blocked.
At the time of writing, Credit Suisse has not responded to TNM’s mails about the allegations and concerns raised in both letters.
It is not unusual for banks to set deadlines on mortgages and neither are distress sales uncommon. What sets the Andersson family’s fight apart is that it is in the midst of negotiations including with the Americans to sell the property. Family members, some of whom have flown down from Sweden, told TNM they were left with no option but to turn to the media. “It’s not as if we are enjoying this – this is our last resort. This is what the bank is subjecting the family to at a time when Lars is hospitalised,” said Lena Malmberg, a family friend of several decades. The octogenarian is battling advanced cancer.
The property in question is situated in Chambésy, one of Geneva’s posh quarters near the United Nations (UN). The 17,000 square metres currently up for sale has been valued at $45 million. “My father has worked closely with the very accommodating Swiss governments at the local, regional and federal levels to obtain the permissions for creating an ambassadorial residence on the property,” Bille-Andersson writes. Compliance with the Host State Act and the Vienna Convention that would make the property ideal for a foreign government are also in place.
There is considerable interest in the property but Andersson do not have time on his side. “Now that a sale is imminent…you are blocking my ability to finance the final steps required to wrap up the sale and also finance myself and living costs,” Andersson has told Credit Suisse from his hospital bed in Geneva.
The allegations against Credit Suisse come at a time when Swiss banks have been facing a slew of charges from around the world ranging from holding undeclared monies, money laundering and tax evasion. Following the Panama Papers and the several leaks preceding it, the banking industry in and around Switzerland has been dragged over the coals for absence of ethics, lack of transparency and other nefarious practices.
“This is a shocking example of how banks, the legal industry and the brokerage industry treats wealthy clients – zero ethics, zero transparency and plain greed,” said Kristy Griffiths who has been Andersson’s assistant for over a decade and also accompanied him to United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) for negotiations. “Why on earth is the bank in such a hurry to sell when they can get a better price if they waited– the math doesn’t add up,” she added. Griffiths said negotiations to sell the property have been on and off for “at least a decade” and the push by the bank to meet the June deadline “raises suspicions.”
Andersson who made his money in oil and real estate moved to Switzerland in the early eighties where he bought this property from a distant relative of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. An “hermit” as he calls himself, he invested heavily in turning his prized property into an ecological and environmental showpiece with Victorian gardens, rivulets, a greenhouse and a rose garden. “Lars wants this place to be a beacon of all that goes to make clean energy and sustainable development a reality in this part of Geneva,” said Malmberg, who is also an entrepreneur in clean technologies and energy.
The family is fighting for time to sell the property – time is running out for the principle in more ways than one. Ethics, not law is crucial say the Anderssons. “Banking is about money. But is banking about money at any cost…the lack of ethics in how Credit Suisse handles this particular case is a story that needs to be told Mr. Rohner. I want to tell this story to anyone who is interested in listening,” Bille-Andersson has written to one of the world’s most powerful banks.