Alleged $60m nickel fraudster can’t pay his legal bills

20th March 2024 By: Bloomberg

The businessman at the center of an alleged $600-million nickel fraud is struggling to pay £330 000 in legal fees, in a sign that his finances are under increasing strain.

Prateek Gupta was last year accused by commodities giant Trafigura Group of orchestrating a massive fraud against it. The company said that it had paid nearly $600-million for nickel, only to discover that the cargoes actually contained worthless rubble.

In December, a judge rejected Gupta’s attempt to lift a court freeze on his assets, saying that he had failed to present convincing evidence that Trafigura staff knew that there was no nickel in the cargoes it was buying. He was ordered to pay £330 000 on account toward Trafigura’s legal costs.

Gupta faced an initial deadline of late February to make the payment, and on Tuesday a judge ordered that around one-third of the overdue funds be paid by the end of next week.

Gupta’s lawyers argued that the London court should then wait for Gupta’s firms to sell steel sheet inventories rather than be required to liquidate his $71.7-million life insurance policies to pay the remaining amount.

While Trafigura says it paid nearly $600-million to companies linked to Gupta for cargoes that turned out not to contain nickel, it’s far from clear where those funds have gone.

Earlier this month, Trafigura’s lawyers said that several of Gupta’s companies had disclosed assets with only a “negligible face value,” as it successfully sought to force additional companies linked to Gupta to disclose information about their assets.

Several of Gupta’s companies have become insolvent since Trafigura first obtained the asset freeze last February. In December, TMT Metals Holdings, a UK holding company was wound up following a request by a broker. And UD Trading Group HOlding, a Singapore holding company, is also being wound up, according to filings.

Gupta’s lawyers said in court documents prepared for the hearing that the he and his companies were “experiencing a temporary period of impecuniosity.” They said his assets included zinc ingots, copper cathodes and steel sheets worth approximately $540 000, which he had sold to Noble Exim.