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Portus Founders Finally Charged With Fraud

by Carla Johnson, Investors, London

01 October 2007

The founders of collapsed Canadian hedge fund Portus Alternative Asset Management, Boaz Manor, 33, and Michael Mendelson, 41, were finally charged last week with fraud. Mendelson appeared in a Toronto court and an arrest warrant was issued for Manor, who absconded to Israel after Portus collapsed.

Portus had collected about $800 million from 26,000 investors in Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Bermuda. The police investigation, in parallel with work by liquidators KPMG, involved enquiries in Austria, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Italy, Jersey, Panama, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Switzerland and the UK.

In August, a Canadian judge ruled that KPMG can begin distribution to investors of some of the assets of the defunct hedge fund. KPMG says that it now has permission to distribute about $130m in cash.

Mr Justice Colin Campbell of the Ontario Superior Court issued an order that will allow receiver KPMG to mail 20,000 cheques in the fall. KPMG has said that eventually about 86% of the $800m collected by Portus will be returned.

KPMG said last summer that about $662.15 million (Canadian) and about $37.2 million (US) of Portus assets have been found and secured in 130 bank and investment accounts in Canada, the Turks and Caicos and the Cayman Islands. The majority of Portus assets remain tied up in notes issued by France's Société Générale which were purchased for $529m, and mature between 2008 and 2011. KPMG is asking the bank whether some of those notes can be redeemed before their maturity dates.

Manor and Mandelseon had previously been charged by the Ontario Securities Commission with failing to act in good faith with clients. Mendelson was also charged with unregistered trading and issuing securities without filing a prospectus. The maximum penalties are C$5 million and five years in jail.

Boaz Manor says he wants to return to defend himself, but the Israeli courts have stopped him from leaving until he disgorges $9m worth of diamonds which he allegedly bought with Portus money. In August, the Israeli Supreme Court judges ruled that the location of the diamonds is unclear because Mr. Manor and one of his associates each claim the other has them. Last week, however, it was reported that Manor has now been allowed to return, and will be arrested on arrival in Canada this week.

Earlier this year, KPMG filed suit in an Ontario court against Montreal lawyer Anthony Malcolm, alleging that he helped Portus founder Boaz Manor to siphon off assets through offshore accounts both before and after the fund collapsed.

"There was no legitimate business purpose for the creation or use of these accounts," said KPMG in the suit, which asks for damages of C$25m. Accounts were set up in the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and in Switzerland.

In March, Manulife Securities, which had recommended Portus to investors (but later repaid the commissions it had received) said it was proceeding with a proposed class action against Société Générale, Société Générale (Canada), Lyxor Asset Management and Société Générale Securities Inc, which according to KPMG hold the bulk of the recoverable Portus assets.

Said Manulife: "This proceeding seeks damages from Société Générale based on the loss of invested capital as well as losses resulting from Portus Investors' inability to achieve a return on their investment due to the collapse of Portus. Any award of damages in the proposed class proceeding will go to benefit all Portus Investors. To the extent that the Estate of Portus makes distributions, the damages claimed through the proposed class proceeding will be reduced but not eliminated. Recovery of remaining damages will continue to be sought from Société Générale.

"In mid-2005, MSIL acted quickly to repay all of its own clients who were referred to Portus by MSIL. These clients were repaid 100% of the principal they invested with Portus by MSIL.

"From the outset, MSIL has committed to do the right thing for its clients and to do what it can to assist all Portus Investors in minimizing their losses from the unfortunate situation surrounding the collapse of Portus. No one other than Portus Investors should profit. MSIL will not profit from this action. To the extent that there is an ultimate net realization by MSIL greater than the principal amount invested by its clients, MSIL will credit its clients with this excess", said J-P. Bisnaire, Senior Executive Vice President, Business Development and General Counsel of Manulife Financial."

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