Gilbert Noël: “The judgment is against Estera not Appleby”

Avec le soutien de
Gilbert Noël, attorney at law.

Gilbert Noël, attorney at law.

In a judgment delivered by the Royal Court of Jersey on 11 September 2017, Gilbert Noël was mentioned as having refused to give evidence and to have helped Mrs Edoarda Crociani in her endeavour to hide funds from her daughter Cristiana Crociani and this in favour of her other daughter, Princess Camilla De Bourbon des Deux-Siciles. Mrs Crociani has fallen out with her daughter Cristiana but has kept control of the estate settled in a trust since 1987. Mr Noël has accepted to answer our questions in view of this high profile case now known as the Crociani case.

What is your reading of the Judgment?
First of all I was not a party to the case and was not provided with an opportunity to answer the comments made on me. There are also no judgment or orders against me. I fail to see how a judge can make comments on me or judge me in my absence. A basic fundamental of natural justice has been flouted. The judgment was undefended, Mrs Crociani and her daughter, Princess Camilla de Bourbon des Deux-Siciles, were not allowed by the judge to defend the case. Hence the judgment seems biased and one sided. It is however subject to appeal. Please note that the judgment is not against Appleby, the law firm, but against Estera Trust (Mauritius) Limited which was Appleby Trust (Mauritius) Limited until 2015. Estera is referred to in the judgment as Appleby Mauritius. It has also to be pointed out that similar claims have been tried before courts in Bahamas, France, Netherlands and the Antilles. There the cases were defended and the plaintiff has failed. This time, the judge did not allow Madame Crociani and Princess de Bourbon des Deux-Siciles to defend. The judge also appears to be exercising extra territorial juris- diction which he does not have.

It is stated in the judgment that you have “refused” to give evidence at the hearing. Why did you refuse?
Absolutely false and misleading! I did not have the legal capacity to be a witness. So how could I refuse? This is more than a nuance. I have never received any request or summons to attend Court in Jersey as a witness. I am not a party to the case and was not given an opportunity to accept or decline such a possibility. Such a statement on the part of Advocate Moran and confirmed by Patrick Lee Mo Lin, managing director of Appleby Mauritius, is, I repeat and maintain, completely false and misleading.

What is true is that there were consultations towards the end of 2015 as regards the witness statement in the form of an affidavit. I had already resigned as non-executive director of Appleby Mauritius and it was suggested that I swore the affidavit. But I had no legal capacity to provide the witness statement. That does not mean that I refused to give evidence. The lawyers and the judge found twisted justifications for making comments on me in my absence. The judgment refers to and quotes legal advice from all over the world. But when it comes to instantly concocting a false statement behind my back that I “refused to give evidence” legal privilege is surprisingly raised. Surprising to say the least…

Have you been acting on your own volition throughout?
The Grand Trust matter and Mrs Edoarda Crociani were introduced to Appleby by Patrick Lee Mo Lin on 6th January 2012. I will of course refrain from blaming other lawyers involved in the case and there are many. The statement that “it was the file of Gilbert Noël and Dominique Leung who acted as administrator” is false. I never attended the board or management meetings of the Appleby Trust and Appleby Management. These are facts and they can be verified.

This judgment is in respect of a trustee and not a Lawyer. I am a full time practising lawyer with no other activities. I do not work as a trustee or a senior executive and have never assumed any trustee or corporate administrator role. The judgment is in respect of a trustee not a lawyer. Patrick Lee Mo Lin was the remunerated executive director at the level of the management and trust companies. As an experienced and fully qualified accountant he could not be expected to occupy a back office and back office clerical functions without any role in respect of communicating with clients and attending to the day to day management. In such capacity and position a professional should refrain from blaming others. I hope the Financial Services Commission will investigate promptly and thoroughly.

How do you explain that the judgment states that “Mr Noël appears to have recommended the use of the client account of Appleby in Jersey to hide the source of these funds”?
Such a statement on the part of the judge goes against basic principles of natural justice. It was made in my absence and de facto denying me the opportunity to answer. On the contrary he has given Appleby Jersey i.e. Estera in Jersey an opportunity to reject such a suggestion as he stated “a suggestion understandably rejected by Appleby in Jersey”.

Why was is not extended to me? I was not provided with the possibility to refute such a false suggestion, furthermore this biased statement is not supported by facts at all. When the trust was transferred to Appleby Trust there was no cash. It was a dry trust and the only asset was a promissory note that the trust holds with a company in the Netherlands under the name of Croci International BV. It is therefore not possible to suggest hiding funds or source of funds of an illiquid trust.

The judgment mentions that Mr Noël had no instructions to find a new trustee, or to involve himself in the drafting of the deed of appointment and retirement and there is no evidence per the judgment (more seriously) that you, Mr Noël, gave Appleby any advice. This is very damning against you and your ethical conduct, would you agree?
For the records, in an affidavit dated 29th March 2016, Patrick Lee Mo Lin stated that he instructed the attorneys to find a new trustee. Around December 2015 he told me “Scott told me to get rid of this trust”. He was referring to Scott Carter, a senior officer of the then Appleby Trust in Jersey. As I was no longer a non-executive director of the trustee, having resigned in 2015, I was not requested to advise, did not hold decision making powers to proceed with the change company of which Patrick Lee Mo Lin is the managing director. Patrick Lee Mo Lin clearly made a contradictory statement in court.

Having read the judgment yourself, you will also have noted that the judge said “Mr Lee had a very uncomfortable time in the witness box” and that he was unconvincing. Yet, in my absence the Court repeated and believed his false statements… Furthermore, the execution of the change of trustee, which is criticized be- fore the Jersey Court, was done in 2016 before a Notary Public who is bound to explain the content of the document. The revised terms of the promissory note were executed by Patrick Lee Mo Lin following an exchange of correspondence with Croci International BV.

The judgment also mentions that the way the documents were signed was unusual to say the least, so all roads seem to point to an unusual collusion between you and Madame Crociani, do you agree?
It is too much of an easy way out for the executive directors of the trust company to blame others. I would strongly encourage the Financial Services Commission to investigate into the matter and assess the directors of Estera. Of course I disagree, the documents were executed as per the instructions of the management and trustee company in 2016 and the relevant documents were signed before the Notary Public.

Are you able to travel to other territories? Can you be arrested outside of Mauritius in light of such evidence?
Why shouldn’t I? I have always travelled and will continue to travel to other territories. This is a dispute over a family wealth over which I have always encouraged a mediation and eventually a settlement. Any civil proceeding against me will certainly fail and can only help to confirm my integrity and that I have acted professionally and honestly.

Whilst acting for Madame Crociani, were you doing so in your own personal name or on behalf of Appleby?
The judgment is against Estera not Appleby.

Were fees paid to you or to Appleby?
During my nearly 11 years with Appleby all fees have been paid to the Law Firm only. I have no qualms about establishing the integrity of my accounts. I would in fact welcome any investigation from the competent authorities.

Why did you quit Appleby Mauritius?
I have left Appleby on amicable terms and I am proud to have been associated with this success story and all the colleagues I have worked with over nearly 11 years. The colleagues at Appleby will continue to remain friends and they know and can testify to my character and honesty. My legal practice will continue as usual and with even more determination. Only my contact details will change.

Would you consider that this judgment has impaired your reputation?
Again I wish to reiterate that there is no judgment against me but against Estera Trust (Mauritius) Ltd whereby the managing director has attempted to ascribe his duties and responsibilities to me. This has had absolutely no impact on the number and quality of support expressed to me from the legal profession, stakeholders and the business community at large. There are of course concerns but once my side of the story is heard I strongly believe that I will emerge from this with a more tested character and more determined integrity. Being the subject matter of false statements is a test of character and this is an experience which I believe will help me in my profession. Allow me to seize the opportunity you provide me to air my views on the matter and express gratitude to all, friends colleagues and clients who have extended support, solidarity and reiterated their valued trust and confidence. I am humbled by their appreciation and they know I will live up to it.

What would be your line of defence if disciplinary proceedings were to be instituted against you with a view to strike your name off the list of attorneys?
As mentioned earlier, I was not a party to the case and was not provided with an opportunity to answer the comments about me. There are also no judgment or orders against me. I have acted professionally, honestly and ethically. Any investigation is most welcome as far as I am concerned.

Do you consider that the judgment, as couched, does bring disrepute to Mauritius as a global business jurisdiction?
If not, why? I do not believe so. The judgment follows an undefended case. It is very biased and is likely to be quashed at the level of the Privy Council if not at the lower level of the appellate jurisdiction of Jersey. On the contrary our sovereign jurisdiction may come out as one that is known to apply basic principles of natural justice whereby all sides are heard before a judgment is delivered or ad- verse comments made.

The embattled family

The Crociani family saw its family feud make the headlines in a number of countries. Edoarda Crociani, who is the head of the family, appeared in a number of films in the 1960s under the name of Edy Vessel. She was the one who set up the trust fund for her two daughters, Princess Camilla de Bourbon des Deux-Siciles and Cristiana Crociani.

According to the Royal Court of Jersey, Princess Camilla was the principal beneficiary of the tactical move to appoint Appleby as a trustee of the fund. Princess Camilla is a regular in Mauritius and has been seen by the side of several political figures in the island. She has been pictured with President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim and earlier this year, even held a press conference with Minister Etienne Sinatambou. They both spoke about the setting up of the Princess Camilla of Bourbon Charitable Foundation.

Cristiana Crociani, the estranged family member who saw her own share of the trust fund mishandled, was the biggest winner following the judgment. Taking into consideration the actions of Appleby, Edoarda Crociani and Princess Camilla, the court found that Cristiana Crociani was due approximately £ 150 million. Appleby has also been at the heart of the Paradise Papers controversy even though the two issues remain unrelated.

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