Liberty Global, the largest international TV and broadband company, is standing by embattled board member John W. Dick, saying he serves in good standing.
Dick has become embroiled in a dispute over allegedly stolen assets that has generated headlines around the world as his daughter has accused him of theft and of looting assets from family trusts.
Dick, who has served on the board of Liberty Global since 2005, resided for decades on the island of Jersey, a crown dependency in the English Channel widely regarded as an offshore tax haven and secrecy jurisdiction. There, he occupied the prestigious estate known as St. John’s Manor, with 58 acres of gardens and parklands and winding, raked-gravel driveways that evokes the British aristocracy of the “Downton Abbey” era.
Dick serves on Liberty Global’s corporate governance committee. The company says it is sticking with him as a board member despite the legal battle.
“John Dick is a Liberty Global board member in good standing,” company spokesman Matt Beake said in a written statement to CNBC. “These accusations relate to a family dispute, and no criminal charges have been levied by authorities, so you should direct these questions to them.”
“We’re aware of various ongoing estate planning claims among members of the extended Dick family,” Beake wrote. “We are not a party to those proceedings and are not involved.”
Dick has denied wrongdoing. When CNBC reached him by telephone, he said: “I don’t wish to answer your questions. This case has been reported on many times. You have all the information you need. I don’t want to get involved in it. But I appreciate your call.”
In a Colorado lawsuit, Dick’s daughter Tanya Dick-Stock alleged that her father stole as much as $50 million from a trust that was supposed to benefit her under the terms of her parents’ divorce. In her complaint, Dick-Stock said her father concealed information that would have allowed her to discover the “fraud perpetuated” against her. And in the fall of 2021 that lawsuit was dismissed by a Colorado district court judge after the court said Dick-Stock failed to appear for a hearing and post a bond.
She compares her father to a notorious financier who led a double life, “My father’s a lot like Bernie Madoff,” she said. “Madoff operated on one floor doing the fraud, and there was legitimate business his sons were involved with on the other floor. That’s exactly what my father was doing.”
John Dick rejected the Bernie Madoff comparison outright.
“That is not true. The only people who believe this are Tanya Dick-Stock and Darrin Stock. Their claim is delusional, and supported by no evidence,” John Dick said in a statement issued to CNBC by a spokesman. Darrin Stock is Tanya Dick-Stock’s husband.
Dick has been an active member of the board of Liberty Global. In 2008, for example, he brought an investment opportunity to the company’s attention: A satellite company to be headquartered on the Channel island where he lived.
The new company was launched on the island of Jersey and named “O3B,” the initials referencing the phrase “Other 3 Billion” — a declaration of the company’s mission to bring satellite communications technology to people around the world who did not yet have access to it.
Dick sat on the board of the new company and obtained a significant chunk of equity ownership for himself. A separate company he controlled served as the registration agent for the new satellite company. And the CEO of the new company was an American executive who himself had personal ownership of multiple offshore entities on the island of Jersey. John Dick’s firm managed those offshore entities on behalf of the satellite company’s CEO.
The CEO told CNBC all offshore entities he owned were properly disclosed to the IRS.
Although he received equity in the new company, it is not clear if Dick invested any funds of his own before receiving shares. Liberty Global spokesman Beake referred the question to Dick individually.
Asked whether it was a conflict of interest for a board member to recommend the company invest funds into an entity in which he came to have a personal ownership stake, Beake said: “We are a public company and potential conflicts of interest come up in the ordinary course of business. Like other public companies, we have robust internal processes in place designed to address any issues, for example by making sure that anyone with a potential conflict is not part of the ultimate decision-making and that their involvement is disclosed to those making the final decisions.”
A family drama spanning the globe
Over the past several years Dick has been engaged in an epic family feud over the substantial global assets of his family. The battle has received press coverage in publications ranging from The Guardian to Institutional Investor.
That struggle has taken place in courts around the world and has featured scrums over ownership of Jersey Trusts, real estate in London, an apartment in St. Petersburg in Russia, and a painting valued in the millions of dollars: “Madonna and Child” by the Italian master Botticelli.
The legal wrangling has not generally gone Tanya Dick-Stock’s way. In one 2019 ruling, for example, a Jersey court referred to court proceedings in the dispute in the United States, saying, “We did not find Tanya’s explanation to us of the things that she said in the deposition in Colorado convincing.” The most recent skirmish has taken place in a federal court in Colorado: an offshore law firm based in Jersey is suing Dick-Stock and her husband for more than a half million dollars in what it says are unpaid legal fees.
Tanya Dick-Stock in turn levies an accusation against the offshore establishment she says she’s fighting against: The court system on the island of Jersey is deeply biased, mired by interlocking relationships and the desire to protect the island’s lucrative trade in offshore secrecy.
Jersey is known as a “dependency” of the United Kingdom, but it is self-governing, placing it in a legal gray zone in which it can create its own financial rules independent of British financial regulators. It has developed a secrecy regime that has attracted vast amounts of money from investors around the world.
The nonprofit group Tax Justice Network, which argues for more disclosure in offshore tax havens, ranks Jersey No. 16 in the world in terms of financial secrecy. Jersey trusts, offshore corporations and foundations “combined with judicial separation from the UK, provide an effective secrecy space that attracts illicit financial flows from across the world,” the group says. The Tax Justice Network says that despite its tiny population of just about 100,000 people, Jersey controls an estimated ?1 trillion ($1.35 trillion) in assets and is the registered address of more than 33,000 companies.
Jersey Finance, a trade association on the island representing the financial sector and the island’s government, has touted recent legislation that it says will help Jersey meet international disclosure standards. The group says the 2021 law will increase the amount of information made public for Jersey companies and will provide a “revised statutory framework as to how beneficial ownership information, which will not be made publicly available, is provided.”
Today, they are at odds. But Tanya Dick-Stock recalls her early life with her father as relatively placid. “I think we had kind of a normal father-daughter relationship,” she said. “Was it always smooth? No. But since when do fathers and daughters get along all the time?”
Things began to change when John Dick’s real estate investments started to yield enormous returns while Tanya was growing up in the United States. That’s when, she said, John Dick and her late mother began to drift apart. Dick was strong-willed and adventurous. His wife, by contrast, was highly religious and conservative.
“My parents were married as teenagers,” Dick-Stock recalls. “My mom, to the day she died, was such a straight arrow. No drinking, no dancing, no smoking. If you went to a movie on a Sunday – that was the Lord’s day – you were going to hell.”
One point of contention in the marriage: as John Dick’s financial success grew, he began to want to entertain lavishly in a manner befitting his new station. But his wife didn’t want alcohol served in the house. According to Dick-Stock’s lawsuit against her father in Colorado, when the couple finally divorced, certain marital assets were placed in trust for Tanya and her brother. It’s the value of those assets, and who had rightful control over them, that is at the center of the battle between father and daughter.
John Dick professes confidence that he will ultimately prevail in the dispute: “No court has found in favour of the Dick-Stocks,” he said in a statement issued by a spokesman. “At some stage the legal process will catch up with the couple, as will their mountain of unpaid debts. There is no possible outcome other than personal and financial ruin for the couple which saddens me greatly.”
Squash court discovery
The father-daughter battle has been fueled by a rare discovery: a trove of more than 350,000 pages of documents that Dick-Stock says she and her husband, Darrin Stock, discovered in 2012, stashed in dozens of boxes in a squash court on the grounds of the St. John’s Manor estate.
The documents, dozens of which were reviewed by CNBC, allegedly detail the inner workings of a trust and estate firm founded by Dick. That company was known as La Hougue, and it operated trusts on the island of Jersey for wealthy clients from around the world.
Among the documents allegedly found in the squash court is a La Hougue memo labeled “CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION” that was addressed to a prospective client apparently considering placing money in the offshore care of the Jersey firm. The memo lays out 11 “methods available to enable the movement of assets offshore.”
One of the techniques was an investment in a Mexican development owned by La Hougue, which would then be “credited” to the client’s account.
“If inquiries were made by the investor’s Tax Authority, suitable confirmations and assurances as to the non-profitability can be given to show that, to date, there had been no capital gain and no income distributions had occurred,” the memo said.
The La Hougue memo, which does not mention Dick and was signed by a firm official, assured prospective La Hougue clients of total secrecy: “No information could be obtained separately by any investigating party.”
But such secrecy comes with a catch. The problem for clients seeking such ironclad secrecy is that their need for confidentiality gave La Hougue leverage over them – as well as control over their financial assets. La Hougue appears to have been willing, on one occasion, to use that leverage against its own clients.
Another memo discovered in the squash court details a dispute with wealthy clients in Canada over the value of the client account and the client’s request to “wind down” their trust in Jersey. But the Jersey estate company apparently did not want to part with the money. The memo details threats La Hougue apparently considered making to its own clients in response, including to reveal the clients’ holdings to tax authorities in Canada if the client continued to object.
The memo is addressed to John Dick and proposes a response to the client: I will “be left with no alternative but to reveal all.” It is not clear whether Dick read the memo or how he reacted to it.
The memo threatened to reveal “source of funds, tax anomalies, where the distributions actually went.” What’s more, the memo said the Jersey company “will have no conscience in tipping off Revenue Canada about both of them, in particular [a consultant] who we believe masterminded it all!”
Records reviewed by CNBC do not indicate how that dispute was resolved, or whether the firm implemented the proposal.
Through a spokesman, John Dick said there was fraud at La Hougue, but that it was conducted by an executive of the company without Dick’s knowledge – and that Dick himself was a victim. The spokesman said an executive at the firm admitted to creating inaccurate documents and said Dick had no oversight or involvement in the day-to-day operations of La Hougue at the time.
Tanya Dick-Stock said there’s more at stake in her long legal battle than just her own personal riches. In her view, the fight is also about the legal structure of Jersey, which she alleges empowers financial misfeasance on a global scale.
“If all they were doing on Jersey is milking cows and growing potatoes, I’d be good with it,” she said. “But they want to be an international financial center. So there has to be law and it has to be enforced.”
A role in Rwanda
Dick’s globe-spanning career has taken him far beyond the island of Jersey. Canadian born and of Ukrainian ethnic descent, Dick has also been involved in extensive business dealings in Rwanda. But the exact status of his relationship with the current Rwandan government is nebulous. Dick says that he is the ambassador at large of the African country and that he carries a diplomatic passport. But the Rwandan Embassy in Washington declines to comment. And Liberty Global, where Dick sits on the board of directors, says it does not consider him to be a diplomat.
For years, Dick served as a board member of various telecommunications companies in Rwanda, at a time that country was struggling to emerge from an era of violent genocide. And Rwandan President Paul Kagame reportedly visited Dick’s longtime residence of St. John’s Manor several times.
As recently as 2019, the year before St. John’s Manor was sold, the large, wrought-iron and stone entrance gate featured a framed white sign with gold lettering reading: “Ambassador at Large Republic of Rwanda.”
In 2015, Dick granted an interview to a Rwandan newspaper and laid out his vision for the country. He said he was pursuing a tax agreement between Jersey and Rwanda, and this would “open the doors for Rwanda to develop its financial system – the kind that Jersey has.”
“I think Rwanda can become the Jersey of Africa,” Dick said.
In a 2015 deposition in a case involving a family dispute, Dick told an interviewer, “I am a Rwandan diplomat and I assist the country in a lot of different areas that involve business things.” He said he had been a Rwandan diplomat for 13 or 14 years and that he held a Rwandan diplomatic passport.
That raises the question of whether Dick claims or is entitled to diplomatic immunity from prosecution around the world. To answer that question, CNBC contacted the Rwandan Embassy in Washington in person and by telephone and email. While officials promised a response on several occasions, no one from the Rwandan Embassy or government confirmed that Dick is a diplomat for that country.
A spokesman for Dick declined to say directly whether Dick believes he is entitled to claim diplomatic immunity, instead issuing a statement that said in part: “John has never relied on this in any legal proceedings, nor does he foresee that he is likely to.”
Liberty Global’s spokesman told CNBC the company was unaware that Dick had claimed he was a Rwandan diplomat.
Asked whether Liberty Global considers Dick to be a diplomat, the spokesman responded, “No.”
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, called the situation “bizarre.”
“I’ve never heard of Ambassador at Large being a secret,” Pifer said. “It just seems weird to me.” He said the fact that the Embassy of Rwanda has not confirmed or denied Dick’s status “is not consistent with the US or the practice of any major country.” Pifer also said: “If his company says it does not consider him to be a diplomat, I would be dubious. One might think the business would want to advertise that credential.”