Credit Suisse Group AG could have faced a far bigger bill to settle probes into a scandal that looted hundreds of millions of dollars from impoverished Mozambique.
Instead, the lender signed up to a potentially precedent-setting agreement with U.K. regulators to forgive the first $200 million of any winnings if it prevails in a separate court fight over the scandal.
While the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority has powers to order a recalcitrant financial firm to compensate victims for loss or damage, it asked Credit Suisse to provide the debt relief, according to its statement late Tuesday.
“It was really bothering us that the people of Mozambique would have been left in the same position as they were at the start without the debt relief,” Mark Steward, the FCA’s head of oversight and enforcement, said in an interview.
The debt-forgiveness agreement raises questions about the size of the figure and whether it’s an option the FCA would seek in other settlements in the future. It comes after the bank agreed to plead guilty to a U.S. wire fraud charge over its role in a fundraising scandal that tipped the country into economic crisis.
The unprecedented move means that the bank will waive the sum from the outstanding loans claimed if it wins a London trial brought by the Mozambican government.
While the three-month civil trial is not set to start until 2023, Mozambique has alleged that Credit Suisse ignored multiple red flags and turned a blind eye to the corruption of its own bankers when it arranged the loans to state-backed companies in 2012 and 2013.
Meanwhile Credit Suisse wants the judge to declare that the government itself needs to stand behind the outstanding loans that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Even as it fights the civil claim, the bank acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the agreement with the regulators.
“This marks a first in that relief is flowing to the people of a country,” said Matthew Herrington, a lawyer for Credit Suisse at Paul Hastings LLP. “I am proud to have been part of this resolution.”
Meanwhile attorneys for Mozambique said they will continue to pursue the litigation.
“The Republic of Mozambique welcomes the admission by Credit Suisse to regulators today of criminal wrongdoing,” Keith Oliver, a lawyer at Peters & Peters said on behalf of the Mozambique attorney general. “This is an important step towards obtaining full redress for the people of Mozambique.
“The Republic remains committed to bringing those responsible to justice,” he said.
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