New Adventures for Hedge Fund Rogue in $200 Million Swiss Fraud Trial
(Bloomberg) -- A German hedge-fund manager who fended off U.S. extradition over an alleged $200-million fraud failed to show up on the first day of his trial in Switzerland on similar charges, citing the risks of the coronavirus.
Florian Homm was due to appear at a court in Bellinzona, Switzerland, on Tuesday morning to face trial on charges of fraud, criminal mismanagement, money laundering and forgery but didn’t show up. His lawyer, Marc Engler, said his 61-year-old client denies allegations of stock-price manipulation or cross trades. Homm has a doctor’s certificate confirming his medical vulnerability, Engler said.
A court spokesman said the hearings will continue Wednesday. If Homm isn’t then in attendance, the court will decide whether the trial should proceed in his absence, he said.
Swiss prosecutors, in a 275-page indictment, allege the founder and chief investment officer of Cayman Islands-based Absolute Capital Management Holdings Ltd. made “massive” investments in thinly-traded penny stocks through a series of cross trades to fraudulently inflate their value.
“This artificial growth in the performance of Absolute Funds has also generated an increase” in Absolute Capital’s share price “from which Florian Homm also directly benefited as majority shareholder,” the Swiss prosecutors said.
Absolute Capital gained a veneer of respectability by Homm’s decision to list Absolute Capital on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) in 2006, the prosecutors said.
“This allowed Homm to bring greater visibility, attractiveness and credibility to the company and above all to sell more easily the ACMH shares he owned,” according to the Swiss indictment.
U.S. prosecutors in Los Angeles put it more plainly in 2013 when they announced an indictment of the German citizen on similar charges, calling his strategy “portfolio pumping.”
Before the scheduled start of the case, Engler said he planned to ask for Homm’s acquittal. Much of Homm’s marketing and recruitment of investors was done through a Swiss-based company, Sigla Zurichfinanz AG.
Homm hasn’t shied away from controversy, calling his 2012 memoir “Rogue Financier: the Adventures of an Estranged Capitalist.” He lived on the Spanish island of Majorca while operating the alleged scam before resigning from his firm in the middle of the night in September 2007 following accusations from a “whistle-blower,” according to U.S. prosecutors.
He was arrested in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery by Italian police acting on a request from American authorities. He was able to return to his native country. German law prevents him being extradited to the U.S., according to the 2019 Swiss indictment, which lists him as a current resident of Germany.
Three Swiss colleagues of Homm, who cannot be named under Swiss law, are also on trial on charges of aggravated money laundering and forgery. Miriam Mazou, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said she will fight to prove her client’s innocence, and that the allegations made against him in the indictment are “imprecise, unclear and confusing.”
A lawyer for a second defendant declined to comment and the counsel for the third didn’t return a message seeking comment.
Homm arranged for most of the purchases of the penny stocks to be made through Hunter World Markets, a Los Angeles-based broker run by one of his accomplices, according to prosecutors.
Todd Ficeto, the president of Hunter World Markets, was convicted of seven counts of securities fraud in a 2019 trial and sentenced to six years in prison. Gary Lincenberg, his lawyer, said his client maintains his innocence but decided to not contest the verdict.
Prosecutors allege that Homm and his colleagues used an instant-messaging system to arrange the cross trades, boosting the value of the previously illiquid stocks and in turn the value of Absolute Capital.
Once the penny-stock values surged, Homm sold them for a profit to the hedge funds he managed, while also boosting the perceived profitability of those funds, the prosecutors said.
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