Lehman Brothers Holdings [corporate website] on Wednesday filed suit [complaint, PDF] against JPMorgan Chase & Co. [corporate website] for allegedly "siphoning" off billions of dollars in "critically-needed" assets days before the investment bank filed for a record-breaking bankruptcy. JPMorgan was Lehman's main short-term lender before its collapse and acted acted as a middleman between Lehman and its investors. In the complaint, Lehman accused JPMorgan executives of using inside knowledge to take advantage of Lehman during its financial downfall and pressured the brokerage firm to turn over $8.6 billion in collateral in September 2008. The last-minute transactions allegedly accelerated Lehman's free fall into bankruptcy, costing the investment bank tens of billions of dollars in "lost value." The complaint, which was filed in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] in Manhattan, is seeking monetary relief for JPMorgan's contribution in Lehman's downfall as a result of its wrongful conduct:
JPMorgan's insistence on the new agreements in August and September 2008, its unjustified demands for billions in additional collateral, and its refusal to return that collateral in the critical days before [Lehman's] bankruptcy filing, severely constrained [Lehman's] liquidity and impeded its ability to pursue and implement alternatives and initiatives that would have resulted in the preservation of billions in value. Instead, [Lehman's] liquidity constraints compelled an exigent chapter 11 filing that has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in additional lost value to the [Lehman] estate and its creditors. ... It is now too late to undo all the harm caused by the [Lehman] bankruptcy. It is not too late, however, to return to [Lehman's] estate and its creditors the billions of dollars of [Lehman] assets that JPMorgan illegally converted and continues to hold, and to compensate [Lehman] for all the damages that flow directly from JPMorgan's misconduct. This lawsuit seeks to return that value to the [Lehman] estate and to restore all of the creditors to the position they would have occupied but for JPMorgan's wrongful conduct.A spokesperson for JPMorgan responded to the complaint [WSJ report] calling the suit "ill-conceived and meritless." In March, a bankruptcy judge approved an accord providing for JPMorgan to return several billion dollars of assets to Lehman's estate but giving Lehman a right to sue further.
The collapse of complex financial firms such as Lehman Brothers has spurred government action to increase regulation and oversight. Last week, the US Senate [official website] passed [JURIST report] the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [S 3217 materials], focused on increasing regulation in the financial sector following the recent economic crisis [JURIST news archive]. The bill creates a new regulatory council to monitor financial institutions in order to prevent the companies from becoming "too big to fail." It also gives the Federal Reserve [official website] the power to supervise the largest financial companies and report to the government any risks the firms may pose to the economy at large. Additionally, a new consumer protection division will be established within the Federal Reserve to enforce rules against certain business practices like abusive mortgage lending and some credit card practices. As a final protection against future bailouts, the government will have the ability to seize and liquidate failing financial institutions before their collapse can have an adverse affect on the entire economy. US President Barack Obama praised the bill, but opponents of the legislation expressed concern that its passage will stifle the economy. The Senate bill has to be reconciled with the bill passed last December [JURIST report] by the US House of Representatives [official website] before Obama can sign it into law.