French singer says failed Iceland bank left him living in fear

Aurélia END
 

A star French singer told a court Wednesday that for a decade he has lived in fear of losing his home following the implosion of Icelandic bank Landsbanki, a debacle he said hastened his wife's death.

Enrico Macias, 78, is the most high-profile plaintiff in the trial of nine people and a commercial entity on charges of fraud in a Paris court.

He was also one of the first to file a case in 2009 against the Luxembourg branch of the Icelandic bank Landsbanki, which went bust when Iceland's financial system imploded in 2008.

The bank had lured thousands of savers with promises of high interest rates but also by offering loans that appeared to pay for themselves.

In Macias's case, he had been trying to secure a five million euro ($5.5 million) loan to renovate his home in Saint-Tropez, but could not find a French bank willing to put up the money.

Landsbanki Luxembourg, however, offered to lend him 35 million euros -- nine million in cash, and the remainder placed in investment funds -- with his home put up as collateral.

In theory, the yield on the investment funds would cover the interest on the loan, and Macias recalled being "super happy".

But when the bank collapsed, it tried to recover the money owed immediately, telling clients that their homes and other assets would be seized and sold to repay the debt.

Like others, Macias claims he had been tricked, saying his revenues would never have allowed him to take out a loan requiring more than two million euros of interest payments a year.

"I spent 10 years of my life living in fear of losing my sole asset," Macias told the court Wednesday, during a trial expected to last a month.

Saying his wife was already ill when the disaster struck, Macias said: "I lost my wife because of this bank."

- 'I've a right to a Bentley' -

When the trial opened Tuesday, the court heard testimony from a couple of horticulturists who earned 25,000 euros a year, and a cook earning the minimum wage, both of whom got loans from Landsbanki Luxembourg of more than one million euros.

But magistrate judge Olivier Geron voiced scepticism Wednesday, saying the plaintiffs would have been better served by showing some "common sense".

"This offer of borrowing without it costing you anything, it's a bit like having Christmas every day," he said.

A lawyer for one of the defendants, Vincent Failly, a Landsbanki Luxembourg representative in France, countered that a borrower's revenues were not the only consideration.

In Macias's case, for example, Failly said the singer could have sold other assets, including a sports car worth 200,000 euros, a suggestion that enraged the singer.

"I'm an international star, I've got a right to have a Bentley."

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