January 11, 2018 / 8:01 PM / a year ago

Cocoa firm Transmar Group's woes mount as ABN Amro, others sue for fraud

    By Chris Prentice
    NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Eight banks including a unit of
ABN Amro, Société Générale and BNP Paribas have sued executives
of New Jersey-based Transmar Group for defrauding them of $360
million in credit lines, just a year after a unit of the firm
filed for bankruptcy. 
    The group of banks, which include some of the world's top
commodities lenders, claim the eight executives including
founder and Chief Executive Peter G. Johnson knowingly
overstated the value of assets and the company's financial state
to qualify credit lines, according to a document filed in a U.S.
District Court in New Jersey on Monday. 
    Macquarie and Natixis were also among the top lenders
involved in the lawsuit, the latest development in the
unraveling of the cocoa firm, which sold cocoa products to
chocolate makers such as Hershey Co and Nestle SA
. The U.S. unit filed for bankruptcy in late 2016 and
later became the subject of a fraud investigation.
    Transmar's bankruptcy proceedings exposed international
emails related to a years-long fraudulent conspiracy, the banks
said. Transmar lied repeatedly from 2014 to December 2016 to
inflate the amount of collateral used to support Transmar's
borrowing, according to the filing.
    Federal prosecutors in August 2017 charged Peter G. Johnson,
his son Peter B. Johnson, who oversaw the company's European
affiliate, and finance vice president Thomas Reich with fraud.
The three men have pleaded not guilty. 
    This week's lawsuit broadens the allegations beyond those
three executives to another five, including Mary Johnson, the
senior Johnson's wife and a director and senior vice president
at the company, and Timothy Johnson, another son and Transmar's
chief operating officer.
    "Defendants went to extraordinary lengths to conceal their
fraud — including maintaining two sets of books and records,"
the banks said.
    Counsel for the plaintiffs declined to comment for this
story. A lawyer for Transmar did not respond immediately to
request for comment.
    Below is a breakdown of the amounts owed, per the Jan. 8
 Lender       Principal       Interest owed,  Total 
              owed, as of     as of 12/31/16  
 ABN          $75,875,621     $948,409.64     $76,824,030.64 
 Soc Gen      $62,485,806     $781,043.23     $63,266,849.23 
 BNP          $53,559,262     $669,465.63     $54,228,727.63 
 Natixis      $53,559,262     $669,465.33     $54,228,727.33 
 Macquarie    $40,169,446     $502,099.22     $40,671,545.22 
 Hapoalim     $31,242,903     $390,521.61     $31,633,424.61 
 The Bank of  $26,779,631     $334,732.81     $27,114,363.81 
 bishi UFJ                                    
 Israel       $13,389,815     $167,366.41     $13,557,181.41 
 Bank of New                                  
 Total        $357,061,747    $4,463,104.18   $361,524,849.88 


 (Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
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