A group of Credit Suisse investors have sued Swiss financial regulators after a government-engineered takeover of the struggling bank by rival UBS left them with billions in losses. The investors are contesting an order by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, or FINMA, that wiped out about 16 billion Swiss francs ($17.3 billion) in higher-risk Credit Suisse bonds as part of an emergency rescue last month, lawyers said Friday.
The hastily arranged, $3.25 billion deal prevented the downfall of Switzerland's second-largest bank after its stock plunged and customers rushed to pull out their money amid fears about long-running troubles at Credit Suisse and upheaval in the global financial system after the collapse of two U.S. banks.
“FINMA's decision undermines international confidence in the legal certainty and reliability of the Swiss financial center," said Thomas Werlen, managing partner in Switzerland for law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. The firm filed the complaint in Swiss federal court Wednesday on behalf of investors holding more than 4.5 billion Swiss francs ($5 billion) in the higher-risk bonds.
"We are committed to rectifying this decision, which is not only in the interests of our clients but will also strengthen Switzerland's position as a key jurisdiction in the global financial system," Werlen said in a prepared statement Friday. FINMA declined to comment but has defended the decision to wipe out bondholders. Typically, shareholders face losses before those holding bonds if a bank goes under.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, European financial regulators use a special type of bond that is designed to provide a capital cushion to banks in times of distress. But those bonds are designed to be wiped out if a bank's capital falls below a certain level. Swiss regulators say contracts for these so-called Additional Tier 1, or AT1, bonds issued by Credit Suisse show that they could be written down in a “viability event,” particularly if the government offers extraordinary support.
That happened after the Swiss executive branch passed emergency measures that provided billions in guarantees for the deal and allowed regulators to order a writedown of the bonds, FINMA said.The emergency rescue plan allowed the government to push through the deal without shareholder approval.
Regulators also have called the takeover “the best option” that offered the least risk of fanning a wider crisis and damaging Switzerland's standing as a financial center. The lower house of Swiss parliament, in a symbolic vote last week, rebuked the rescue after the central bank and government splashed out more than 200 billion Swiss francs in guarantees.