LONDON — A group of Credit Suisse investors have sued Swiss financial regulators after a government-engineered takeover of the struggling bank by rival UBS left them with billions in losses.
The investors are contesting an order by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, or FINMA, that wiped out about 16 billion Swiss francs ($17.3 billion) in higher-risk Credit Suisse bonds as part of an emergency rescue last month, lawyers said Friday.
The hastily arranged, $3.25 billion deal prevented the downfall of Switzerland’s second-largest bank after its stock plunged and customers rushed to pull out their money amid fears about long-running troubles at Credit Suisse and upheaval in the global financial system after the collapse of two U.S. banks.
“FINMA’s decision undermines international confidence in the legal certainty and reliability of the Swiss financial center,” said Thomas Werlen, managing partner in Switzerland for global law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
The firm filed the lawsuit in Swiss federal court Wednesday on behalf of investors holding more than 4.5 billion Swiss francs ($5 billion) in the higher-risk bonds. It’s one of several complaints underway in Switzerland following the bond losses.
“We are committed to rectifying this decision, which is not only in the interests of our clients but will also strengthen Switzerland’s position as a key jurisdiction in the global financial system,” Werlen said in a statement Friday.
FINMA declined to comment but has defended the decision to wipe out bondholders. Typically, shareholders face losses before those holding bonds if a bank goes under, but people with Credit Suisse stock collectively will get 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.3 billion) in the combined company.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, European financial regulators use a special type of bond that is designed to provide a capital cushion to banks in times of distress. But those bonds are designed to be wiped out if a bank’s capital falls below a certain level.
Swiss regulators say contracts for these so-called Additional Tier 1, or AT1, bonds issued by Credit Suisse show that they could be written down in a “viability event,” particularly if the government offers extraordinary support.
That happened after the Swiss executive branch passed emergency measures that both provided billions in guarantees for the deal and allowed regulators to order a writedown of the bonds, FINMA said.
The action has triggered “a large number of complaints” with the Federal Administrative Court in Switzerland, spokesman Andreas Notter said.
“We assume that there will ultimately be a very large number of complaints, each with several hundred complainants,” Notter said, adding that the court doesn’t comment on the content of the filings or who is behind them.
Regulators have called the takeover “the best option” that offered the least risk of fanning a wider crisis and damaging Switzerland’s standing as a global financial center.
The merger “minimized risk of contagion and maximized trust,” FINMA chief executive Urban Angehrn said last month. Putting Credit Suisse into insolvency proceedings would have had a “devastating effect” on Swiss private banking, he added.
The lower house of Swiss parliament, in a symbolic vote last week, rebuked the emergency rescue plan for Credit Suisse after the central bank and government splashed out more than 200 billion Swiss francs in guarantees for the deal.