Fraud and Insolvency Law

Our team acted for one of the parties in Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada v. Sino-Forest Corporation, where Justice Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved Ernst & Young LLP’s $117 million settlement relating to class action lawsuits commenced by jilted investors following the downfall of former stock market darling, Sino-Forest Corporation.  The $9.2B class action involves significant fraud allegations that call into question Sino-Forest’s structure, reporting and revenues, as well as the practices of its auditors and underwriters. In addition to garnering attention as the largest auditor settlement to date in a Canadian securities class action, this landmark decision is noteworthy for the Court’s approval of a comprehensive third-party release and a ‘no opt-out’ settlement feature granted in favour of Ernst & Young.   The Court also approved a controversial framework that would make similar settlements available for  future settling defendants – a feature some critics characterize as extraordinary relief in cases where there are underlying fraud allegations.
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In Wolf v Anstett, 2012 ONSC 3220, a creditor used section 5 of the Assignment and Preferences Act (the Ontario provincial legislation which may be applied to set aside transactions made by an insolvent person or a “person in contemplation of insolvency”, with an intent to give an unjust preference to a creditor) and Rule 16.08(16) of the Rules of Civil Procedure[i] to halt a would-be fraudster from attempting to thwart a previous judgment by using a newly incorporated entity to receive payments that should have went to the plaintiff.
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Dividing up a shortfall from a Ponzi scheme was first posed before the United States Supreme Court in 1924. The infamous case of Cunningham v. Brown dealt with the original Ponzi scheme of Charles Ponzi and distributing remaining funds back to victims when his investment scheme was finally unravelled, but left victims with only a fraction of their original investments. Unraveling a Ponzi scheme to return a shortfall of money back among its victims is akin to untangling the noodles in a half-eaten bowl of spaghetti at a buffet and trying to determine who cooked each strand. Where multiple chefs (all using the same recipe) all had their spaghetti thrown in one giant pot, it would be a seemingly impossible task to untangle the half-eaten bowl to see which chefs’ spaghetti was still in that bowl.
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