(photo credit: Courtesy)
French businessman Jacob Agam has filed a €1 billion lawsuit against the French bank BNP Paribas, its chairman Jean Lemierre, CEO Jean Laurent Bonnafé and the bank’s legal representative Valérie Lafarge-Sarkozy. Agam claims the bank caused him severe financial loss, smearing his name after he pushed back at the bank for antisemitic actions.
The lawsuit, filed by Agam and his company Vertical Group Holding Ltd., accuses the bank and its representatives of conducting an alleged smear campaign against him and his company and violating, among other things, statutory banking and defamation laws.
Agam believes the bank conducted the smear campaign after he accused the bank's executives of making antisemitic statements and funding terrorism.
Agam is originally from Israel. He served in the IDF and carried out diplomatic service on behalf of the State of Israel between 1974 and 1980. He founded Vertical Capital Holdings, an investment group, in 1991. He has been the chairman of the board since its inception in 1993. From 1986 to 1988, Agam was an attorney at Kronish, Lieb, Weiner & Hellman, a New York law firm with a specialty in international business and finance representing governments, multi-national conglomerates and financial institutions pursuing IPO and M&A in Wall Street.
He currently serves on the board of directors of several companies and is a founding member of several charities.
According to a release, the bank allegedly spread damaging statements about Agam and his company to the media, falsely claiming in 2017 that the plaintiffs “wriggled out” of financial obligations, which, according to the claim, never occurred. The bank’s alleged smear campaign, it is claimed, has destroyed the plaintiffs’ pending transactions, professional reputation and credit standing, resulting in severe loss of business and the termination of transactions causing direct losses and damages estimated to reach €1 billion.
Agam claims the alleged violations were part of a long-running dispute between the parties after Agam persistently challenged the bank over its admission of - and criminal conviction for - its alleged antisemitic stance, as well as having conducted financial transactions with terrorist organizations acting against the State of Israel.
Agam and his Malta-based business are still clients of BNP Paribas bank.
The claim states that in 2014, Agam challenged the bank about its antisemitic actions and financial transactions with terrorist organizations and highlighted the bank’s $40 million settlement with a former employee who was subjected to viewing imagery of Hitler in a positive context as part of an internal training video produced by the bank’s management in Europe. Immediately following, the bank abruptly terminated Agam’s company’s investment facilities. The claim states that despite the bank’s apparent breaches, those facilities were fully honored and paid by the plaintiffs, with the bank’s acknowledgement.
The claim also states that the bank’s representative, Lafarge-Sarkozy, then sought to seize Agam’s and his sister’s properties, stating in front of several witnesses during an open court hearing in late 2016 that she regards Jews as “ces gens-là,” or “these people,” a highly derogatory antisemitic phrase in the French language. She also allegedly described Jewish people as “parasites lounging around in luxurious estates living at the expense of the bank and a part of an international financial world.”
Agam claims that when he continued his challenge of the bank’s antisemitic actions, the bank unexpectedly chose in late 2016 to engage a Jewish lawyer, Jean Veil, from a known family of Holocaust survivors, who was instructed to solicit a written apology from Agam for having challenged the bank over its pattern of antisemitic behavior as a condition of reaching a settlement, or else the bank would exercise its power against him.
The bank’s CEO and chairman, despite their knowledge of the case and multiple requests for their respective intervention, failed to act to either condemn or prevent the alleged destructive smear campaign against Agam, which led to a direct loss and damages estimated to reach €1 billion or more, he charges.
“As demonstrated in the past, the bank failed to see itself as accountable to the rule of law,” Agam said in a statement. “The bank’s management must not and cannot hide behind its corporate veil to solicit and/or to condone all forms of racism.
“With its current misconduct, I fear a repeat of the bank’s past admissions, reaching new heights,” he said. “I trust all relevant stakeholders, in particular the bank’s shareholders, will intervene to put a stop to the repeated misconducts by the bank and its management, which have been committed at the expense of the bank’s shareholders and clients.”
“BNP Paribas has long been accused of a systematic pattern of antisemitism,” said Pio M. Valletta of the Maltese law firm Farrugia, Gatt & Falzon, who filed the suit on behalf of Agam and his company. “In my long professional career, the behavior of BNP Paribas against my client, Mr. Jacob Agam, his family and his assets, including Vertical Group Holding Limited, stands out as amongst the most destructive behavior by a bank against its clients, with ample evidences to be presented to the court as to the bank’s racial motives.”
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