NYC court US$ 300 million bond for British tycoon and Patagonian landowner
A New York City court has imposed sweeping restrictions on British billionaire Joe Lewis as he awaits trial on insider trading charges. Mr Lewis, 86, pleaded not guilty and was granted US$ 300m (£230m) bail.
But the Manhattan judge required him to surrender his passport and banned him from using his super-yacht.
Mr Lewis is not allowed to travel abroad, including to the Bahamas ocean-side resort he reportedly co-owns with Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake.
The tycoon, whose family trust owns Tottenham Hotspur football club, can still use his private plane – for business – within the boundaries of restricted domestic travel.
During Wednesday’s hearing before Judge Valerie Figueredo, the bail bond was secured by Mr Lewis’ 223ft (68 meter) yacht, the Aviva, and private aircraft.
Mr Lewis was charged with 16 counts of security fraud, and three counts of conspiracy for crimes alleged to have taken place between 2013-21, according to the 29-page indictment.
Lawyers for Mr Lewis, whose net worth is estimated more than US$ 6.4bn, called the charges an egregious error.
The allegations are ill conceived and will be vigorously defended in court, Mr Lewis’ lawyers said.
New York prosecutors allege he hatched a brazen scheme that enriched his friends, which include two of Mr Lewis’ pilots, who are facing charges, too.
Joe Lewis is no stranger to this part of the world. In effect a struggle that has been going on for more than 17 years, in defense of Argentine sovereignty over Lago Escondido in Patagonia’s Río Negro province
In 1996 Lewis decided to buy himself a little piece of paradise in Argentine Patagonia. To do so, he turned to local real estate agent Nicolás Van Ditmar, the current administrator of his estate, who had already facilitated the sale of endless amounts of land to the Benetton group (which owns nearly 900,000 hectares in Patagonia alone). It was through him that Lewis purchased the Montero family property around Lago Escondido, a beautiful mountain lake nestled in a protected area (the Río Azul-Lago Escondido Natural Area) that is home to many animals including the southern huemul, a rare species of deer native to the Andean regions of Argentina and Chile.
The purchase should never have been allowed to take place, as Argentine legislation prohibits the sale of property close to the border to foreign nationals for reasons of national security – and the Montero property is located just 20 km from the Chilean border. However the British tycoon, circumvented the obstacle by resorting to an Argentine company, H.R. Properties Buenos Aires SA, which, once the purchase was completed, sold the property to Hidden Lake SA, controlled by the billionaire. It was thanks to these maneuvers that Lewis, although a British citizen, was able to buy 7,800 hectares close to the border, containing a lake that by law is public property (like all the bodies of water in Argentina), later managing to add another 2,700 hectares and also building himself a private airport in the Río Negro with a runway almost 2000 meters long, but without a radar station, so as to guarantee himself the utmost confidentiality on takeoffs and landings (and from which it would take him two hours by plane to get to the Falkland Islands).
Since then, for the locals, reaching the lake has become an adventure in itself. The only way to access it is now through a steep and in some places dangerous path – passable only in summer – that requires at least two days of travel, despite the fact that there is a dirt road, the Tacuifí path, that would allow one to get there in a few hours.
And even though the Río Negro Superior Court of Justice has ordered Lewis’s company to allow passage through the Tacuifí path back in 2009, and then again in 2013, the authorities have never done anything to ensure that the rulings were respected, so access to the lake continues to depend on the whims of Lewis’s private security guards, whose power is said to be greater than that of the provincial police.