HSBC wins dismissal of Madoff customer class action in U.S.

September 15, 2016 4:26 PM EDT

A sign is seen above the entrance to an HSBC bank branch in midtown Manhattan in New York City, December 11, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings Plc on Thursday won the dismissal of a lawsuit by former Bernard Madoff customers who accused the British bank of fuelling his massive Ponzi scheme by ignoring red flags and encouraging "feeder funds" to invest with him.

U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain in Manhattan said a federal law governing securities fraud cases prevented the plaintiffs from bringing their class-action claims against HSBC's U.S. unit. She also said she lacked jurisdiction over claims against the HSBC parent and non-U.S. affiliates.

Jason Zweig, a lawyer for the customers, declined to comment because he was reviewing the decision. HSBC spokesman Rob Sherman declined to provide immediate comment.

The customers filed the lawsuit in December 2014, after a federal appeals court said the trustee liquidating Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC lacked standing to sue HSBC, JPMorgan Chase & Co and other banks he accused of aiding Madoff's fraud.

In their complaint, the customers said HSBC sold structured financial products that resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to Madoff through feeder funds.

They also said HSBC looked the other way when encountering signs of fraud, to help sate its "unquenchable thirst" for fees.

The customers said their accounts with Madoff were not "covered securities," barring them from pursuing their case, because the con man had total discretion over their money.

But the judge said the customers expected Madoff to invest their cash in covered securities, which are traded nationally and listed on a regulated national exchange, to achieve the "extraordinary" returns for which he had at the time been known.

"That plaintiffs had no control over which particular investment strategy Madoff undertook or specific securities he purchased does not obviate the fact that plaintiffs were seeking, directly or indirectly, to purchase covered securities," Swain wrote. "Accordingly, plaintiffs' claims are barred."

Madoff, 78, pleaded guilty to fraud in March 2009, three months after his scheme was uncovered. He is serving a 150-year prison term. The trustee, Irving Picard, has recouped roughly $11.2 billion for former Madoff customers.

The case is Hill et al v HSBC Bank Plc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-09745.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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