December 9, 2016 / 11:55 PM / a year ago

Exclusive: Reinsurer Beechwood explores sale after Platinum woes - source

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Beechwood group of reinsurance companies is in talks to sell most or all of itself after a backlash from some clients due to its relationship with troubled hedge fund manager Platinum Partners, according to a person familiar with the situation.

PLATINUM

“The very good news is that Beechwood has a successful business model that is attractive to investors,” Davidson Goldin, an external spokesman for Beechwood, said in a statement to Reuters on Friday.

“The unfortunate news that Beechwood is working to manage on behalf of its clients is that Beechwood’s historical relationships with individuals from Platinum are causing substantial reputational issues for the firm separate from its performance.”

The sale discussions are with large insurance and private equity firms, according to the person, who requested anonymity because the information is private and who spoke to Reuters on Wednesday.

The talks mark a reversal of fortune for Beechwood, a once fast-growing reinsurer founded in 2013 with some funding coming indirectly from Platinum and some crossover in personnel. (See graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2hjRlW6)

The Bermuda-, Grand Cayman- and New York-based firm has been working to sever its links with Platinum after the once-$1.35 billion hedge fund manager became embroiled in multiple federal probes and put its funds in liquidation in July. Beechwood had made investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Platinum-related hedge funds and businesses on behalf of its insurance clients, according to public filings and information provided by one client as part of subsequent litigation.

As Manhattan-based Platinum’s troubles mounted, one of Beechwood’s major clients, Indiana insurer CNO Financial Group (CNO.N), pulled business from Beechwood and sued three current and former Beechwood executives seeking damages. Another large client, Pennsylvania-domiciled Senior Health Insurance Co of Pennsylvania, better known as SHIP, is liquidating its Platinum-related holdings, invested for them by Beechwood.

Led by a former chief executive officer of Marsh USA and senior executives from Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Merrill Lynch (BAC.N), Beechwood managed $2.44 billion as of 2015. The lawsuit from CNO subsidiaries in September claimed that Beechwood told them that “it is about to run out of cash” and that its two principals “will have to fund operations with their own money.”

Beechwood did not respond to a request for comment on its current financial state.

PLATINUM PROBLEMS 

Beechwood’s links to Platinum began hurting over the summer.

In June, longtime Platinum and Beechwood associate Murray Huberfeld was arrested on criminal corruption charges, and the hedge fund’s headquarters was raided by federal agents. Platinum, led by Mark Nordlicht, later decided to liquidate its main hedge funds under the supervision of a professional monitor amid pressure from investigations by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A lawyer for Huberfeld has said his client denies the allegations; the case is pending. Huberfeld provided Platinum with money for its launch in 2003, and the firm eventually took over separate hedge funds he managed. Huberfeld allegedly kept ties to Platinum throughout, according to the federal charges against him, and in recent years did some work for Beechwood, where his nephew, son and son-in-law also had roles, according to the CNO lawsuit.

Since the decision to unwind its funds, Platinum’s main offshore vehicle has received U.S. bankruptcy protection as Cayman Islands-based liquidators work to recover money and sell off its assets on behalf of creditors. Platinum and its executives also face lawsuits based on allegations that they stole money or intellectual property from companies they invested in.

A spokesman for Platinum declined to comment.

The September lawsuit by subsidiaries of CNO against Beechwood Chief Executive Officer Mark Feuer, Beechwood President Scott Taylor and Platinum co-chief investment officer and former Beechwood executive David Levy — Huberfeld’s nephew — alleged that Platinum executives conspired with counterparts at Beechwood to form the reinsurance group and then invested client assets in Platinum-related funds and businesses.

The plaintiffs allege that current and former Beechwood executives hid their links to Platinum even after they were asked by the CNO subsidiaries to sever ties. A subsequent audit found at least $116 million of hard-to-value assets “inextricably intertwined” with Platinum, the lawsuit said. Feuer, Taylor and Levy did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Other Beechwood clients are keeping a close eye on developments.

“Universal has been closely monitoring events related to the Beechwood label,” Eira Piñeiro, an external spokeswoman for Puerto Rico-based Universal Group Inc, said in an email, adding that the insurer was taking steps to ensure that its assets were protected.

The firm’s life insurance unit had $437.5 million in assets with Beechwood as of the end of 2015, according to a filing with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. It was unclear if any of those assets were related to Platinum; Piñeiro did not respond to requests for clarification.

Representatives of two other insurers, Columbus, Ohio-based Motorists Life Insurance Co and Charleston, South Carolina-based Atlantic Coast Life Insurance Co told Reuters in separate statements that they had no Platinum-related holdings through Beechwood despite separate asset management agreements for approximately $100 million each.   

“We are comfortable with our position,” Atlantic Coast CEO Daniel Cathcart said in an email.

By contrast, SHIP, the Pennsylvania-domiciled insurer, told Reuters in September that it was liquidating its Platinum-related holdings related to its contract with Beechwood. Those investments totaled at least $100 million as of June and about $50 million as of September. A spokesman for SHIP declined to comment, including on the current status of the divestment.

CNO appears to be the only client to cut ties with Beechwood, and has taken back its approximately $550 million in assets, according to public company disclosures.

CNO previously estimated it would lose about $55 million, pending an audit by year end of hard-to-value assets, which it believes were incorrectly priced by Beechwood. A CNO spokesman declined to make an additional comment; Beechwood released a statement at the time saying it had “acted properly at all times.”

Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne; editing by Carmel Crimmins

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