Slaughters halts ‘Viking raider’ with High Court assets freeze

SLAUGHTER and May has secured a High Court freezing order against the assets of Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, the former executive ­chairman of retail investor Baugur, on behalf of Icelandic bank Glitnir.

Partner Deborah Finkler was instructed by the resolution committee of the Icelandic bank to secure the freezing order against its one-time principal shareholder, who is also facing a $2bn (£1.38bn) claim from Glitnir in New York.

Jóhannesson was one of the original so-called Viking raiders, whose company led an investment charge on the British high street. At its most powerful, Baugur owned stakes in Debenhams, Hamleys, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser.

Jóhannesson’s current assets include two luxury Manhattan apartments, valued at at least $25m.

Lawsuits were filed against Jóhannesson in Iceland, London and New York earlier this month.

In New York, the bank has instructed Steptoe & Johnson partners Michael Campion Miller, Robbin Itkin and Evan Glassman to commence legal action against Jóhannesson as well as Glitnir’s former chief executive, Larus Welding, and former chairman Thorsteinn Jonsson.
The trio are alleged to have fraudulently and unlawfully conspired with other senior management to drain more than $2bn out of the bank, causing its insolvency in October 2008.

The lawsuit filed in New York aims to show that Jóhannesson, who controlled 39 per cent of Glitnir’s share, seized executive control of the bank in April 2007 by ousting its director and senior management and replacing them with Welding and Jonsson and other associates.

It is alleged that the defendants then used their influence to force the bank to issue massive loans to companies they ­controlled and contribute to those companies’ ­ongoing transactions.

Glitnor raised funds through the New York Stock Exchange and, it is alleged, the defendants fraudulently misled investors.

The bank named auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers as a defendant alongside Jóhannesson, alleging that it was complicit in the fraud and helped raise $1bn from investors in New York without being transparent about Jóhannesson’s involvement.