Embed from Getty ImagesOver the last few weeks the High Court has heard some astonishing evidence in the bitter wrongful dismissal claim brought by the former CEO of Signia, a wealth management company, as reported in The Independent.
High profile entrepreneur John Caudwell has frequently made the news over the last couple of decades. The founder of mobile phones retailer Phones 4U has presented himself as a forthright, no-nonsense style of businessman. According to the website Caudwell.com (owned, registered and administered by one John D Caudwell and which is currently “down for maintenance”) he is a “successful entrepreneur and philanthropist” who “built an immensely successful mobile telecoms company”.
Signia is a wealth management company that was jointly founded by Nathalie Dauriac and six of her Coutts Bank colleagues in 2010. Another co-founder was Mr Caudwell. The business focuses on high end wealth management. All appeared to be well until details emerged of an extraordinary dispute between Ms Dauriac and Mr Caudwell, ostensibly in connection with expenses claims amounting to some £33,000. Ms Dauriac claimed that the expenses investigation was unfair and was, in effect, trumped up to deprive her of her £12 million 49% stake in the business, which was bought out for a nominal £2.00 fee.
Giving evidence in the High Court trial Ms Dauriac says that when they set up the business in 2010, “Mr Caudwell had asked me…as a last minute condition of jointly setting up the business, to give an undertaking to him not to have children, a proposal I did not agree to”.
Ms Dauriac claimed in evidence that Mr Caudwell orchestrated an “elaborate conspiracy” against her, resulting in her claim of constructive dismissal.
For its part, Signia maintained that she wrongfully claimed the expenses, that her approach to them was “brazen” and that she was “guilty of gross misconduct”.
In his evidence, Mr Caudwell said that the breakdown of his business relationship with Ms Dauriac, who he considered to be a “best friend” was like suffering a “bereavement”:
My view was the evidence showed that Ms Dauriac ha misappropriated company money and there was a clear lack of probity on her part…It appeared my trust in her had been seriously abused and the feeling was not dissimilar to a bereavement.
The company claimed that Ms Dauriac had altered references to expenses claims covering a trip to Malaga for a friend’s birthday and gifts for her daughter and former husband. Records were apparently altered, including the deletion of flights for her, family and nanny to visit Mr Caudwell (apparently it was a rule for Caudwell’s “holiday gang” that they had to pay for their own flights). However, other expenses claims for flights by family members were not challenged.
Disclosure included emails between Signia executives which included observations such as “Hopefully there is still enough mileage in the expenses to allow John to hit her hard” and about someone trying to appear “as co-operative as possible [with Ms Dauriac] before telling her to sod off”.
Ms Dauriac also said that Caudwell asked her to take a lie-detector test. In his evidence Mr Caudwell said that he did not remember this but would regard it as “reasonable conduct”.
As the trial progressed Mr Caudwell described Ms Dauriac as an “amazing liar” who presided over a “reign of terror” while at Signia. He added:
Ms Dauriac is the most amazing liar I’ve ever met in my life…She’s Machiavellian and the vast majority of everything she says is a complete fabrication
On her behalf Thomas Plewman QC said that Ms Dauriac would rather have spent holidays with her family but went abroad with Caudwell for business reasons, thereby justifying the expenses claims. Mr Caudwell responded by saying “Then why did she tell me that she loved me?”
I think that it is fair to say that this trial, which has throughout been fought tooth and nail, has demonstrated beyond any doubt that there is no love lost between the main protagonists. The trial concluded on Wednesday 9 November. Mr Justice Marcus Smith has reserved his judgment, which is expected in the next three months. Reputations are at stake, in addition to tens of millions of pounds. I’ll report the decision as soon as it’s published.