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It can be hard to prove someone is super rich

Robert Oesterlund via FacebookThe New York Times published a great article last week by Nicholas Confessore called “How to Hide $400 Million.”

It’s about a successful Finnish businessman who filed for divorce from his wife in Canada.

The businessman, Robert Oesterlund, told a Canadian court his “immediately calculable ‘net family property’ totaled just a few million dollars.”

But his wife, Sarah Pursglove, didn’t believe it. She didn’t know much about Oesterlund’s current business — he was an internet entrepreneur — but she knew there was a 165-foot yacht christened the Déjà Vu, and a $30 million penthouse at the Toronto Four Seasons, among other homes they owned.

Pursglove hired Miami divorce lawyer Jeffrey Fisher to help her. Oesterland had run some of his businesses from Florida and the couple had lived in Palm Beach.

Fisher discovered that Oesterlund’s accountants had once estimated his wealth at about $300 million. In a loan application, Oesterlund himself had said he was worth just over $400 million.

Through pictures Pursglove took with her phone of mail that came for Oesterland, Fisher realized there was a Cook Islands asset protection trust. From the timing, it looked like Oesterland had set up the trust and transferred most of his business assets into it around the time he and Pursglove started talking about a divorce.

Pursglove also found “a statement from a bank in Luxembourg showing an account with at least $30 million in cash. She had never seen it before.”

There were corporations in the Caymans and Nevis, the Times said. And there were other Cook Island trusts.

Fisher found evidence Oesterlund had forged Pursglove’s signature when he transferred some of the assets.

Fisher filed a civil suit in Florida saying Pursglove was at risk of being defrauded. A judge issued an order freezing Oesterland’s assets everywhere. But first, Fisher had to find the assets and tie them to Oesterland.

That started a years-long battle of attrition between Fisher and Oesterlund’s lawyers, including Squire Patton Boggs’ Miami office.

Fisher has been trying to prove one of the Cook Island trusts was a sham and use that to defeat all the trusts. Oesterfund claimed all the trust documents were privileged.

The legal battle is still going on. But Fisher is more confident these days his client will prevail.

In July 2015, the Squire Patton Boggs team quit the case after Oesterfund told them to ignore a court order to produce some of the documents.

And Fisher has had some good luck.

A paralegal in his office was looking for Oesterlund’s yacht, the Déjà Vu.

“Using public webcams at ports around the French Riviera, she discovered the Déjà Vu anchored in the middle of the harbor in Saint-Tropez,” the Times said. Soon after, Fisher’s partner photographed Oesterlund near the yacht.

“How to Hide $400 Million” by Nicholas Confessore is here.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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