CORRECTED-N.Y. court dismisses claims over Saudi billionaire's alleged fraud

Wed Apr 9, 2014 4:38pm EDT

(Corrects first name of attorney for Al-Sanea, to Robert instead of Richard, in eighth paragraph.)

By Daniel Wiessner

ALBANY, N.Y., April 8 (Reuters) - New York's highest state court has ruled that a lawsuit by the Algosaibi family conglomerate, claiming that a Saudi billionaire who married into the family committed a $150 million fraud, should be heard in Saudi Arabia.

In the lawsuit, Ahmed Hamad al Gosaibi & Brothers Co claimed that Maan al-Sanea, the billionaire head of the Saad Group, used its accounts with Dubai-based Mashreqbank PSC to commit fraudulent foreign exchange trades executed in New York.

The suit is part of a global legal battle in which the Algosaibi family claims that al-Sanea, who married into the family 30 years ago, defrauded it of billions of dollars after he was put in charge of its financial businesses.

Al-Sanea and the Saad Group have denied wrongdoing.

Reversing a lower court, the New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed the Mashreqbank claims, saying the fact that the allegedly fraudulent trades were executed in New York did not give the state's courts jurisdiction over the case.

"New York's interest in its banking system is not a trump to be played whenever a party to such a transaction seeks to use our courts for a lawsuit with little or no apparent contact with New York," Judge Robert Smith wrote for the court.

Because the suit involved a Saudi company, a Saudi citizen and an alleged fraud committed in Saudi Arabia, he said, "the jurisdiction with the greatest interest in resolving the issues...is clearly Saudi Arabia."

Al-Sanea's attorney, Robert Serio of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said he was pleased with the decision.

"It marks the likely end of nearly five years of burdensome and unnecessary litigation in New York," he said.

Attorneys for al Gosaibi & Brothers and Mashreqbank did not immediately return requests for comment.

GLOBAL FIGHT

In 2009, al-Sanea's Awal Bank and Algosaibis' International Banking Corp collapsed, with an estimated $22 billion owed to more than 100 banks, including Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Societe Generale.

Since then, the Algosaibi family and al-Sanea have faced off in courts in New York, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, London, the Cayman Islands and Geneva.

Mashreqbank sued the Algosaibis in New York court in 2009, seeking to recover $150 million in foreign exchange trades executed in New York. Those funds eventually were transferred into an account controlled by al-Sanea, according to the bank's lawsuit.

The Algosaibis then filed a lawsuit in New York against al-Sanea, claiming he and Awal Bank had used Algosaibi accounts as part of a massive fraud. The Algosaibis also asserted in court filings that Mashreqbank aided al-Sanea in the alleged scheme, according to the Tuesday's decision.

The two lawsuits were dismissed in 2010 by state Supreme Court Justice Richard Lowe, who granted al-Sanea's request to toss out the case against him, saying it did not properly belong in New York state court. As a result, he also dismissed the lawsuit brought by Mashreqbank, since the two cases were closely intertwined.

In a 3-2 ruling in 2012, an intermediate state appeals court reversed that decision, ruling that New York was an appropriate forum for the complaints. The Court of Appeals on Tuesday unanimously reversed.

The case is Mashreqbank PSC v. Ahmed Hamad al Gosaibi & Brothers Company, New York State Court of Appeals No. 54. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner; Editing by Ted Botha and Ken Wills)

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