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Punish CIBC, court told
Lawyer seeks punitive, moral damages. Brokerage being sued by former clients after $1.4 million in assets were seized

 

PAUL DELEAN

 

May 26, 2005

Ordering CIBC Wood Gundy to simply return to a retired Montreal couple the $1.4 million it seized from them four years ago, plus interest, would be letting the brokerage off easy, a lawyer for the couple argued yesterday in Superior Court.

"That's not a punishment, giving people back what they took," said lawyer Suzanne Gagne, acting on behalf of former CIBC clients Haroutioun and Alice Markarian.

They're suing the CIBC for their money back, plus millions in punitive damages, after the brokerage seized their assets in 2001 using guarantees that their former broker, Harry Migirdic, had them sign to cover the trading losses of people they didn't know.

Gagne said $200,000 in moral damages and at least $6 million in punitive damages would send a clear message to rich and powerful financial institutions like the CIBC that they can't treat customers the way the CIBC treated the Markarians.

Before being fired by the CIBC, Migirdic admitted to his superiors that the Markarians and other clients had "no clue" what they were signing, but it exercised the guarantees, anyway. In so doing, the brokerage "associated" itself with Migirdic's deceit, Gagne charged yesterday as the plaintiffs wrapped up their case.

She noted that the brokerage never told the Markarians about Migirdic's confession, repeatedly tried to keep documents and information from their lawyers, and generally treated the couple with contempt.

"It has never admitted responsibility," though supervising Migirdic clearly was its job, Gagne said.

The drawn-out legal proceeding has taken a toll on the couple and disrupted what should have been a tranquil time in their lives, Gagne said, but they persisted in seeing the case through the courts because they wanted to ensure the same thing didn't happen to others.

The CIBC offered them a settlement of $1.5 million just before the trial, which they declined.

"If they were here for themselves, they'd have taken the $1.5 million," Gagne said. "They're here because they don't want a story like this to be repeated."

Bernard Amyot, lawyer for the CIBC, took issue with the portrayal of the Markarians as vulnerable retirees ruined by the CIBC's exercise of the guarantees. They had accounts at several financial institutions and a net worth of $3.4 million even after the CIBC seizure, Amyot noted.

He called Haroutioun Markarian a knowledgeable businessman who deliberately played down his sophistication during the trial and someone highly familiar with guarantees since he'd signed several over the years relating to his business and that of his sons. "Other documents, he recognizes immediately and understands the risks and obligations. But when he signs ours, he has no idea what it is," Amyot said.

The trial continues today.

pdelean@thegazette.canwest.com

 

"CIBC must assume responsibility for the fraud.
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