Gupta asks court to lift freezing order in Trafigura nickel fraud case

By Eric Onstad

LONDON (Reuters) – Indian businessman Prateek Gupta asked a London judge on Tuesday to lift a freezing order on his personal and business assets because he said commodity trader Trafigura failed to disclose full information when it demanded the freeze.

Geneva-based Trafigura filed a lawsuit against Gupta in February, alleging seven trading companies that Trafigura said are controlled by him carried out “systematic fraud” over nickel cargoes.

At issue is who is responsible for substituting other, less valuable, materials for nickel.

A lawyer representing Gupta told Justice Robert Bright that the freezing order that was imposed in February was equivalent to a nuclear weapon in a war.

“The consequences were devastating,” he said.

Trafigura’s metals division booked a $590 million impairment in its October-March financial results due to the alleged nickel fraud.

In July, Gupta’s lawyers rejected Trafigura’s allegations of fraud, saying Trafigura employees proposed that Gupta ship other materials such as alloy or scrap instead of high-grade nickel.

Since then, Gupta has filed more documents including details that he alleges Trafigura failed to tell the court.

“That application should be granted because of … serious failures to comply with their (Trafigura’s) duty of full and frank disclosure,” Gupta’s lawyers said in a document prepared for Tuesday’s hearing.

Trafigura rejected the allegations, saying in a court document: “None of the documentation to which the Gupta Ds (defendants) refer would have made any material difference.”

Trafigura said it appeared Gupta was submitting additional evidence to pressure the commodity trader to back off.

In court papers submitted previously, Trafigura had said it began to suspect in October last year that around 25,000 metric tons of metal sold by Gupta’s firms may not be high-grade nickel, and started inspecting more than 1,000 shipping containers.

Trafigura told a judge who imposed the freezing order that some of the first containers inspected were found to contain carbon steel, worth a fraction of the price of nickel.

(Reporting by Eric Onstad)