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Barclays sued over role in German "mini Madoff" fraud

A man gestures whilst speaking on a mobile telephone at Barclays Bank in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London January 19, 2009.
A man gestures whilst speaking on a mobile telephone at Barclays Bank in the financial district of Canary Wharf in London January 19, 2009.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Investors who lost money in a Ponzi scheme run by Helmut Kiener, convicted founder of the K1 hedge fund in Germany, are suing Barclays Plc for selling his products to them, their lawyers said on Friday.

The lawyers said they were seeking a total of around 100 million euros ($133.58 million) in damages and had lodged more than 100 suits against Barclays with regional courts in Frankfurt and Munich over warrants issued by the bank that were linked to Kiener portfolios.

Kiener, dubbed a German "mini Madoff" by the media in reference to the jailed U.S. fraudster, was sentenced in July 2011 to more than 10 years in prison for a scam that prosecutors said cost investors 345 million euros.

The lawyers, who said they represent more than 1,000 claimants, have also moved to bundle the claims into a class action suit.

"We are confident the Frankfurt court will initiate the class-action case within six months," said Andreas Tilp, one of the lawyers from the ProtectInvest Alliance (PIA), which respresents the plaintiffs.

The Munich and Frankfurt regional courts confirmed that the PIA had filed claims against Barclays in December.

"It was a large number of suits," a spokesman for the Frankfurt court said. He confirmed the request to start a class-action suit but declined to give further details.

A spokesman for Barclays said the bank would vigorously defend itself in the case.

"Barclays continues to believe the Kiener-related claims are wholly without merit," he said.

"German courts have found in Barclays' favour in all decisions to date and there has been recognition that Barclays is also a victim of the Kiener fraud," he said.

Kiener was arrested in October 2009 as authorities said Barclays and BNP Paribas may have lost millions of dollars in the case, which spanned the Atlantic and featured lavish personal spending on planes, a helicopter and luxury properties.

The court sentenced Kiener on 86 counts of falsification of documents, and 10 counts of fraud and tax evasion.

The judge in the case said at the time that the banks made it easy for Kiener to keep up his Ponzi scheme, which was seen as a mitigating circumstance in the trial.

($1 = 0.7486 euros)

(Reporting by Jonathan Gould; Editing by David Cowell)

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