Madoff victim commits suicide

24th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

A French investor who had invested EUR 1.5 billion into Bernard Madoff’s scheme was found dead in his New York office.

WASHINGTON – A French investment manager who plowed EUR 1.5 billion into Bernard Madoff's fraudulent scheme was found dead Tuesday in his New York office, in what a friend says was a suicide.

An autopsy was to be performed Wednesday on Thierry de la Villehuchet, 65, who was found dead shortly after 7:00 am (1200 GMT) Tuesday by a security officer of the Madison Avenue building that housed his Access International investment concern, according to the New York police department.

Villehuchet, co-founder and chief executive of Access International, which invested funds for the cream of Europe's high society, was both an investor in and apparent victim of Madoff, a former Wall Street pillar now accused of running a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

He "could not cope with the pressure following the outbreak of the scandal," one of Villehuchet's close friends told AFP in Paris, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Villehuchet was managing some EUR 2 billion for European clients, of which three quarters had been invested with Madoff when the scandal broke, added the friend.

Villehuchet was "devastated" and feared his clients would turn against him in the courts, the source said.

Officials at Access, which employs 26 workers and managed USD 3 billion (EUR 2.1 billion) before the scandal broke, would not comment.

"Access was his whole life, and Madoff was a manager in whom he had complete trust. I lunched with him two weeks ago and he said, how lucky it was that Madoff was the only manager still doing well at the moment."

"A perfectly honest guy," according to his friend, Villehuchet had "teams that recorded all of Madoff's operations. He could not imagine those were fake documents."

Prosecutors say that Madoff, 70, has confessed to losing upwards of USD 50 billion over years of running a pyramid scheme, where new investors were secretly fleeced to pay returns to earlier investors, in what may be the biggest scam in the history of Wall Street.

Madoff, former chairman of the Nasdaq stock market and a mainstay of the powerful American Jewish community, is currently free on bail of USD 10 million as police continue their probe.

After the scam was revealed on 11 December, Villehuchet was "crushed" and feared that his clients would sue him, the friend said.

"I had known him since 1992. He was one of a kind, a very warm, hard-working man."

Married without children, Villehuchet "was a man of honour and humour, very funny, a keen sailor and suicide seems contradictory to the type of person he was," long-time friend Marie-Monique Steckel, president of the French Institute-Alliance Francaise in New York, told AFP.

The Madoff scandal has already sent shockwaves through Madoff's former clients around the world and underlined systemic problems at the heart of the US financial industry and the government agency meant to watch over it.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last week announced a probe into how the financial regulatory body failed to detect the alleged fraud scheme despite a decade of warning signs.

Only about 60 percent of those affected by the Madoff scandal have been identified so far, but they are said to include private individuals who invested their life savings for their golden years, some of the world's largest banks, and philanthropic organisations whose endowments in many cases were entirely wiped out.

The scandal also has bilked a long line of wealthy European and American investors, including the owner of the New York Mets baseball team Fred Wilpon; Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar; New York media mogul Mort Zuckerman; former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman; and New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, among many others.

[AFP / Expatica]

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