Daily Banking News

Meet the pizza-loving diplomat behind Antigua News’s big Credit Suisse scoop

A bombshell twist in the saga of Credit Suisse’s $17bn additional tier 1 writedown hit the headlines this week, when mainFT sort-of revealed the following:

Credit Suisse directly disputed the Swiss financial regulator’s basis for writing down $17bn of its additional tier 1 bonds, in a private letter aimed at sparing staff bonuses that were tied to the debt.

We say “sort-of” because, while the FT was the first major news organisation to write about the revelations contained in a second decree Switzerland’s Finma issued ordering Credit Suisse to zero its AT1 bonds, another lesser-known media outfit actually got the scoop:

The second decree was published in full online last week by Antigua News, a local news outlet. The Financial Times separately obtained a copy of the decree and verified its authenticity with several people with direct knowledge of the situation.

If you are not familiar with Antigua News, you are not alone.

The barely two-year-old website primarily traffics in the comings and goings on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, with recent stories chronicling a robbery at local takeaway joint Roti King and the suspension of a high-profile criminal trial due to a courtroom “mould infestation”.

Even by the standards of a local news start-up, Antigua News’s Twitter presence was minimal, with a paltry 15 followers ahead of the FT’s story on Monday:

Antigua? We hardly know ’er

Needless to say, obscure Caribbean websites do not usually break big European banking stories.

For those not following the intricacies of the fallout from Credit Suisse’s shotgun marriage to UBS, earlier this month a group of AT1 bondholders that have banded together to sue Finma achieved an early victory in what is expected to be a protracted courtroom battle.

The aggrieved investors forced the Swiss financial regulator to hand over two hitherto secret documents: Finma’s decree ordering Credit Suisse to wipe out the AT1 bonds and a second decree relating to staff bonuses that were tied to the debt.

While aspects of the first decree soon leaked out into the Swiss press, the world’s media had missed that Finma had even issued a second decree before Antigua News arrived on the scene.

The contents of this second decree were even more explosive. The document reveals Credit Suisse had challenged Finma’s interpretation of the AT1 contracts and argued that the conditions allowing for a writedown had not been met. It represents a coup for investors battling to prove that Finma acted improperly.

On May 15th, hours after muckraking Swiss financial blog Inside Paradeplatz published an article containing a couple of photographed extracts from copies of the first decree, Antigua News quietly published digital versions of both the first and second decrees in their entirety. It even savvily watermarked them:

FT Alphaville set out to find out how this little-known Antiguan website got hold of the Swiss smoking gun and scooped the world’s financial press.

The answer led us to a pizza-loving lawyer and ambassador, whose notable past clients include Vladimir Putin’s former son-in-law.

Caribbean websurfing destination

Antigua News had published two articles on Credit Suisse’s travails in March, as the 167-year-old lender fell into the arms of longtime rival UBS. These earlier stories at least carried a byline (“Tata”), but lacked the strength of sourcing of the later marmalade-dropper dispatch.

While the owner of the antigua.news domain had used a privacy protection service, online records also suggested a Swiss connection:

The website itself is . . . not user friendly. Vast sections of screen space are covered by large invisible link frames, which make right-clicking impossible.

Some gentle fiddling allowed Alphaville to circumvent these barriers and access the raw images of the Finma decrees. File names such as “FITMA 1.pdf.jpg”…

Read More: Meet the pizza-loving diplomat behind Antigua News’s big Credit Suisse scoop

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