Stewart McKelvey, the law firm that has been representing Quadriga in its Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), is stepping down due to a “potential” conflict of interest.
Maurice Chiasson, a partner at the law firm, sent a letter to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on March 13. He explained that his firm was stepping down in response to concerns brought up by court-appointed monitor Ernst & Young.
Stewart McKelvey was representing both Quadriga in its CCAA hearing and the estate of the firm’s dead CEO, Gerald Cotten. The letter hints that new information has surfaced since February 5, when the hearings began.
“We have been advised that the concerns regarding a potential conflict have arisen as a result of information, which has come to the attention of the monitor since the start of the CCAA process,” Chaisson said in the letter.
He adds that, “Notwithstanding that no information has been disclosed, which provides a basis to conclude there has been or is the potential for conflict, we are of the view that the appropriate course in these circumstances is to withdraw from our representation of the application companies in the CCAA process effective immediately.”
The firm will continue to represent the estate of Jennifer Robertson, Cotten’s widow.
Chetan Phull, a Toronto lawyer, who specializes in crypto and blockchain, told me it is uncertain why Stewart McKelvey is not insisting that the conflict be disclosed.
“It is even more curious why the firm believes the best course of action is to withdraw, without any evidence of a conflict or potential for conflict,” Phull said.
He noted that a conflict could arise from less obvious aspects of this case, such as whether Robertson breached a duty of care owed to the “corporate applicants” (meaning Quadriga CX) or a dispute with regard to how the firm’s legal fees should be paid.
“At the end of the day, the letter is intentionally vague, probably to avoid raising issues that would prejudice the applicants,” Phull said.
Roughly $220 million CAD ($165 million USD) is still missing or unaccounted for after Quadriga became insolvent. Meanwhile, Robertson seems to have done okay.
In a will signed weeks before his death on December 9, Cotten left an airplane, a yacht, and properties worth millions of dollars to his new bride. Robertson was also left in charge of Quadriga, since she inherited a large share of stock in the company.
Even while Quadriga users were experiencing delays in getting cash out of the exchange, Cotten and Robertson were buying up properties. Between mid-2016 and late-2018, the two bought 16 properties, worth $7.5 million CAD ($5.6 million USD), according to CBC.
Before Quadriga filed for creditor protection on January 31, Robertson removed Cotten’s name from the ownership of four Nova Scotia properties, took out collateral mortgages on all four and moved at least two of the properties into the Seaglass Trust, according to the Chronicle Herald. It is not clear if Stewart McKelvey set up the trust.
Robertson is owed $300,000 CAD ($225,000 USD), which she put up to kick off the CCAA process. On March 5, the court deferred an order to pay her back.