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NEW YORK-Troubled reinsurance holding company Equisure Inc. plans to withdraw from the American Stock Exchange rather than fight an exchange inquiry into its accounting practices and possible manipulation of its stock by insiders.
Peter d'Orleans-Clarke, Equisure's recently appointed chief executive officer, said the company has agreed with the American Exchange to withdraw. An exchange spokeswoman confirmed the agreement was under discussion.
Meanwhile, Equisure last week settled an explosive civil fraud lawsuit that charges it with concealing the identity of its chief financial officer, a man who allegedly has been jailed in a separate criminal inquiry.
RISC International, an Austin-based reinsurance producer, sued Equisure, its Belgian reinsurance subsidiary Equihot Herverzekering N.V. and several Equihot officials in June, charging that they breached a management contract and fraudulently misrepresented Equihot's business.
The charges escalated this month when RISC alleged in new filings that Equihot had failed to pay claims and that Equisure's CFO, identified in financial reports as a South African national named David Sachman, is actually Paul Yorke-Wade.
Mr. Yorke-Wade, a former associate of late insurance swindler Alan Teale, was arrested earlier this year in connection with a Belgian police investigation of the defunct Dai Ichi Kyoto Reinsurance Co. S.A.
Ronald C. Bridle, named in the RISC suit as an Equihot executive and himself the subject of a Belgian arrest warrant, denied RISC's charges and denied that Mr. Sachman and Mr. Yorke-Wade are the same person.
Mr. Bridle also responded angrily to charges against himself, including RISC's allegation that he helped conceal Mr. Yorke-Wade's identity.
"I'm getting tired of reading about myself when I have not committed any crime against humanity," he said. "At least Pol Pot had a trial. I have not had a trial."
Mr. Clarke sounded equivocal on the question of Mr. Sachman's identity, though.
"The company is investigating that allegation. It's a hard one to investigate," Mr. Clarke said.
Asked why it is hard to investigate, he responded: "Because I just don't know where he is. That's not to say he doesn't exist."
He added that the question may now be irrelevant: "From the company's point of view, so what? Sachman is the former CFO, Paul Yorke-Wade is under detention in a completely unrelated matter, so who cares?"
"This stuff gets Fellini-esque," Mr. Clarke commented.
Equisure settled the RISC lawsuit last week, agreeing to pay the Austin, Texas, company $650,000, court filings indicate.
Meanwhile, an American Exchange spokeswoman confirmed the exchange is discussing a voluntary withdrawal by Equisure. The exchange halted trading in the company's shares Aug. 4 and later announced that it has begun proceedings to delist it (BI, Aug. 11).
The exchange had charged possible manipulation of Equisure stock by insiders and accused Equisure of having "virtually no money, no business and no offices except for a one-man executive suite" in Minneapolis, Equisure confirmed earlier this month.
The company rejected these charges as "patently absurd."
Belgium-based Equihot's appearance as an international reinsurer is relatively recent.
Until last year, Equihot Herverzekering was a unit of Equihot Delfstoffen N.V., which was formed in Belgium in 1994 and describes itself as a metals trading firm with $1.4 billion in 1995 revenues.
Equihot Delfstoffen last year took over a dormant Minneapolis-based cosmetics company, Aloe Vera Naturel Inc., in exchange for all of the stock of Equihot Herverzekering. Aloe Vera then changed its name to Equisure and became the reinsurance company's new parent.
Soon afterward, Equihot Delfstoffen sold the majority of Equisure's outstanding stock to an investor group that included Equisure management, retaining a 22% stake in the Minneapolis company.
The company has other affiliates, Business Insurance has learned. One of these is Equihot Finance Ltd., an Irish corporation formerly known as Krediet Financien Ltd. Its directors are four reported South African nationals who give their address in Irish corporate filings as Equihot's Antwerp, Belgium, office. The Irish company's corporate secretary is another company, Hunter LaRoche Ltd., which gives its address as 20 Upper Merrion St. in Dublin.
Coincidentally, this is the same address that housed a management company headed by Mr. Yorke-Wade.
Mr. Bridle said that Equihot Finance provided lease financing for Equihot Delfstoffen metals operations and that he is not aware of any involvement by Mr. Yorke-Wade with Equihot.
Equisure stock, originally traded over the counter, moved to the American Exchange last year and quickly became one of the market's fastest-rising stocks. Listed last December at $6.25, the stock closed at $15 when trading was halted.
Equisure, which reported $12.9 million in 1996 written premiums, has assumed a variety of property/casualty reinsurance risks in the United States and London.
In one U.S. deal, Intercargo Insurance Co. of Schaumburg, Ill., agreed to front for Equihot on a book of construction liability business produced by a Dallas broker. Intercargo has ceased writing new business on this program pending the outcome of investigations of Equisure, an Intercargo officer said last week.
In another deal, Equisure announced in January that it had entered a multiyear contract with RISC International, a reinsurance underwriting manager whose clients were said to include ceding insurers and brokers in Central and South America and Pacific Rim countries.
The contract was to give RISC binding authority for reinsurance business that was to include aviation and accident and health risks, court filings say.
Equisure canceled the agreement earlier this summer, though, and in June RISC filed a breach of contract and fraud suit in federal court in Austin naming Equisure and Equihot; Mr. Bridle, who also uses the name Charles Bridel; Barrie Harding, then-CEO of Equisure; and Mr. Sachman.
The suit alleged that Equihot officials gave RISC false assurances about a number of things, including that Equisure:
Was close to completing the purchase of a U.S.-domiciled A.M. Best Co.-rated insurer to front for Equihot.
Would loan RISC $150,000 and enter an arrangement to share staff and offices in Austin.
Would hire two RISC officers for jobs that are not described in the suit. Mr. Bridle made these offers himself, according to the suit, which describes him as the majority shareholder and "key decision-maker" at Equisure.
In an interview, Mr. Bridle denied this and said he never had any significant contact with RISC officials.
The suit also says many of Equisure's contractual commitments were made by Mr. Sachman, who by June had "seemingly disappeared." Equisure told RISC at various times that Mr. Sachman couldn't be located, had gone to South Africa and was out of touch or was at an unknown location but would be checking in for messages, the suit says.
Two weeks ago, RISC offered a startling explanation for this alleged mystery: "David Sachman" is merely an alias for Mr. Yorke-Wade, who was arrested earlier this year in connection with a Belgian police investigation of the Dai Ichi Kyoto scandal.
Mr. Yorke-Wade-now being held in France pending extradition to Belgium-reportedly helped manage Dai Ichi Kyoto shortly before it collapsed in 1985. He also is former president of the defunct Victoria Insurance Co. of Georgia, which was the target of a 1991 U.S. Senate fraud investigation.
According to an Aug. 12 court filing, RISC officials were supposed to meet Mr. Sachman in Monaco May 11, 12 and 13, but he never showed up. Mr. Bridle and Mr. Harding offered "various excuses" for his absence, including family problems. They never disclosed, though, that Mr. Sachman was Mr. Yorke-Wade and that he was not available because he was in prison, RISC charges.
The filing, which sought a restraining order freezing Equisure's U.S. assets, also said Equihot's retrocessional protections with several London and European reinsurers had been canceled for non-payment of premium and that Equihot had failed to pay about $120,000 in reinsurance claims submitted by RISC clients.
Mr. Clarke and Mr. Bridle said they were not familiar with Equihot's retrocessional program.
Mr. Bridle, however, insisted that Mr. Sachman "certainly does exist" and that Mr. Sachman was in London last week before returning to South Africa. He said he did not know where Mr. Sachman could be reached in that country.
Mr. Harding, who was replaced by Mr. Clarke as CEO but who continues to be in charge of Equihot underwriting, could not be reached.
Mr. Clarke described himself as an independently wealthy investment banker and legal consultant in Madrid, Spain, who became involved with Equisure only recently as a potential investor and was named "CEO by default" when the controversy erupted.
He said he plans to hire accountants and investment bankers to help restructure Equisure after a withdrawal from the American Exchange: "I believe the company will charge on," he said.