A prominent and influential Swiss lawyer has been managing the assets of controversial clients, notably Russian Oligarchs and a former business associate of Bernie Madoff, via secretive Swiss Trusts.
Dieter W. Neupert, 74, a lawyer based in Zurich and the founding member of the Lopag Trust which operates out of Liechtenstein, has been granted power of attorney for offshore trusts owned by Vasily Anisimov, a Russian Oligarch and close supporter of President Putin, and offshore companies formerly used by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He has also advised Nica Schliegel-Fleischman, a former owner of Bank Medici which was accused of facilitating clients to the fraudster Bernie Madoff, and helping Tibor Csaki, a Hungarian businessman who was the subject of an international arrest warrant.
Now Neupert's credibility as a Trustee to wealthy businessmen is under more scrutiny as he is being sued by a former client in Liechtenstein and Switzerland, according to well informed sources and leaked documents. Lawyers in Switzerland call him a “money hider”.
The former client inherited a fortune from her late father who sold a family real estate and put the proceedings of the sale in clearly assigned companies. However, the former client then accidentally discovered more than $5 million from the $37 million transaction was missing.
Neupert has denied that he is a director of the companies that controlled this money, although he wrote a letter to the former client on behalf of these companies. Lopag Trust denies that the disputed funds is part of their trust and was never supposed to be transferred to the trust of the client. And Neupert refused to provide answers to what happened to the missing $5 million which belonged to his former client.
Then lawyers for the former client have learned that Neupert replaced a foreign board member of a protector committee of the trust with his son and that he is trying also to install a colleague of his law firm. The lawyers say that this is disturbing because this committee is also the protector of the trust with the client’s money. This means that that in one hand under Lopag he is the trustee and on the other hand, he is taking over the protector committee in order to control all funds.
Other parts of the client’s fortune are shares in a trust on the Cayman Islands. The Lopag Trust is a Trustee of a Cayman trust which in turn owns another trust – of which the former client is the settlor . Neupert successfully removed the directors of these companies in order to control the money there as well.
When asked to comment and respond to questions, Neupert declined to answer.
Neupert is a son of art collectors. He grew up in Zurich in Bahnhofstrasse, between the Swiss National Bank and the popular Baur au Lac Hotel. His entire career has been with the law firm Hoffmann, Frick, Widmer & Partners, which in 2000 changed its name to Neupert Vuille Partners, with Neupert as the Senior Partner.
He is also a member of the American Bar Association, International Fiscal Association, Swiss Bar Association, and the Spanish, German and American Chambers of Commerce. Neupert is a very respected figure in sailing and aviation circles.
He has been a Colonel in the Swiss Air Force and is an aviation lawyer. He is Chairman of the European Business Aviation Association in Switzerland and a Vice-Chairman of AERO SUISSE – an umbrella association of Swiss civil aviation companies.
But the Panama Papers and his former clients reveal a more controversial side of his career. The documents show that he is the beneficiary of Homeland Shipping Ltd, a BVI company incorporated in 2013. The shareholder of Homeland Shipping Ltd is Homeland Foundation, a US based charity which was reportedly investigated for embezzling several millions of dollars.
Neupert has 37 corporate affiliations in Switzerland – 37 are active and 101 in total. He has been involved with Metanef Holding AG in Romania, owned by the billionaire Stefan Marginean.
His other clients have included Russian Oligarchs, the Qatar royal family, and a company called White Eagle which provides offshore services to individuals and entities in Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Russia. His main vehicle is Lopag, a supposedly powerful discreet trust firm based in Liechtenstein
But some former clients say that while Neupert is a full partner at Lopag, he is also a Protector of the Trust - a role that should give the clients protection from any misconduct of the trustees. . They believe that this constitutes a conflict of interests.
One former client is Gerd Meyer, a 72-year-old businessman from Ticino who has been in a protracted legal battle with Neupert since 1997 and has registered two debt proceedings against Neupert in Küsnacht. Documents filed in the Swiss court documents reveal an insight into Neupert’s activities.
The dispute concerns the ownership of Villa Christina – a house in Ticino. In 1984 Meyer, then a German citizen, transferred 1.3 million Deutsche Marks to Neupert to buy this house on his behalf. Then in 1998 Neupert demanded that Meyer leave “his” property. But Meyer says that house belonged to him and accused Neupert of forcing him out of his own home and misappropriating the 1.3 million DM, according to the court documents.
The Cantonal Court ruled that it is proven that there was an “economic relationship” between the two parties. Meyer never paid any rent and there is no rental agreement. Neupert let him live there from 1984 to 1998 without problems.
But then in 2002 Neupert tried to evict Meyer by force. He even broke into the house with people from Securitas and tried to change locks. Meyer accused Neupert of burglary and damage to his property.
In court Meyer has demanded that Neupert provide all documentation regarding how he used his money, particularly the 1.3 million Deutsche Marks he paid for the house and 8.5 million Swiss francs he paid into an account.
The Cantonal Criminal Court has not made a ruling on the burglary but decided that Neupert had to pay 20,000 Swiss francs, especially because of damage to the house.
In 2006 Meyer sued Neupert in Küsnacht for 2.765’000 Swiss francs for damages based on the violation of his property. In response Neupert asked the court to state that he did not owe the 2.765’000 and that the lawsuit should be kept secret.
But we have obtained new police documents which disclose his role. During the interrogation, Neupert confirms that he was a member of the board of trustees of the Optima Foundation, but says that Meyer was always in charge of the money. He says that he “saved” 5 million Deutsche Marks for Meyer, but that he does not know where the money went.
During the interrogation Neupert responded to many questions with “I forget”, “I cannot remember” and “I do not understand the question” For example, he was asked “Did you advise Meyer not to transport money (360 000 DM) over the boarder but to transfer it on the account Neupert?” He replied: “After him being prosecuted because of tax evasion I certainly did not advise him to transport money in a suitcase”
Q: Do you recall a counselling about DM 360’000?
A: no, I do not remember
Q: Where did the money go?
A: No idea
Q: Do you remember having picked up a cheque of at least 1’200’000 with Mr. Meyer at Bank Schoppreif from the director?
A: No, I do not remember
Q: Did you advise your client (Meyer) to serve the Optima Foundation?
A: As he wished to acquire a foundation I connected him with a fiduciary in Liechtenstein
Q: Who managed the foundation
A: Also the Nordfinanz Bank
Q: Tell us where the money went that is listed on this document for the Optima Foundation
A: I do not know as I do not know if Gerd Meyer realized his ideas on the document…
Q: Why do you refuse and have refused to give us information about the management of these funds?
A: After Gerd Meyer moved to Ticino we did not work for him anymore which is why I can not inform you about the funds
The dispute over the house is still going on. The federal supreme court ruled in favour of Meyer but the cantonal court has to review its judgement.
Meyer is also suing Neupert regarding 8.5 million Swiss francs which Meyer says he paid into the Optima fund. This fund does not exist anymore and the bank which administered the fund, the Nord Bank, does not exist anymore. But we have obtained a letter written by Neupert which stated that millions of Swiss francs are in the Optima fund. Neupert claims that he paid back the money to Meyer, but has not provided the documents to prove this transaction.
“I gave him CHF 8 million to hold in a trust for me. He promised he would make all the arrangements and keep the money safe, but he took it all and refused to give it back because he said that I did not have the proper paperwork”, said Meyer. “He helped me set up the trust in Liechtenstein to hide the money from the German authorities. That’s what he does. That’s where he specializes”
“No-one is willing to testify against him because they’re scared of him. I’m scared of him too, but I’m old now, so what have I got to lose by talking to you? The money is gone but I won’t give up in my fight,”.
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