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Michelin-starred chef who committed fraud ordered to repay €11.3 million by Commercial Court

Posted on 20 December 2021

On 9 December 2021 the Commercial Court delivered its judgment in a claim brought by a Dutch company MAD Atelier International BV (MAD International) against the renowned Michelin-starred chef Mr Axel Manes. MAD International is majority owned by Dream International (a leading innovator in the hospitality industry, with significant investments in the Azumi Group (ZUMA, ROKA, INKO NITO, ETARU, OBLIX), Coya Group and NUSR-ET Group (NUSR-ET and SALT BAE BURGER).

In his judgment, the judge, Sir Michael Burton GBE, ordered Mr Manes to pay damages in excess of €11.3 million, plus interests and costs for breach of contract and fraud.  

In August 2015, Dream International (through its investment in MAD International), entered into a Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with Mr Manes to develop an international franchise of restaurants under the "Atelier de Joel Robuchon" brand. As part of the JVA, shares in a French Company, which owned the Joel Robuchon restaurant in Paris, were transferred to MAD International. In June 2016, Mr Manes contacted MAD International's representative (Mr Padberg) to inform him that he was required to attend a meeting with him in Paris to sign the financial accounts of the French Company.

At that meeting on 3 August 2016, Mr Manes fraudulently induced Mr Padberg to also sign French share transfer documents (in the knowledge that he did not speak or read French), transferring all the shares in the French Company to a company owned by Mr Manes for a very substantial undervalue, resulting in the automatic termination of the JVA. The court found that Mr Padberg did not know what he was signing and his signature on the documents was induced by Mr Manes deceit.

Following a four-week trial in October 2021, Sir Michael Burton GBE concluded that Mr Manes was lying and that his evidence was dishonest. The Judge found that Mr Manes has set up this fraudulent scheme, with the help of his French lawyer and that as part of the scheme, Mr Manes had destroyed documents and transferred the legal title to shares (that he represented owned) to close family friend (Mr Xavier Alcan). Mr Alcan is himself presently embroiled in a separate lawsuit. BGC Partners has accused Xavier Alcan and his co-conspirator Michael Viney of funnelling over $35m due to or from the UK tax authorities into their own pockets between 2015 and 2020, according to a London court filing. Mr Alcan's lawsuit contains remarkably similar allegations to the facts of the Manes case (involving the suspicious transfer of assets to Mr Alcan, allegedly for tax planning reasons and the deliberate destruction of e-mails and WhatsApp communications).

Andrew Rimmington, the lead partner from Mishcon de Reya LLP acting for MAD International said: "Our client is justifiably proud of its global reputation as a leading innovator in the hospitality industry and it was determined to see justice prevail, following Mr Manes' fraudulent conduct. Our client feels vindicated by the decision and is pleased to see that the English courts undertake a thorough and detailed review of all the evidence and punish those individuals who seek to use fraudulent business practices for their own financial gain".

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