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Lars Windhorst offered La Perla role to H2O chief’s wife

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Lars Windhorst offered a position at his luxury lingerie brand La Perla to the wife of the chief executive of H2O Asset Management, which was pouring its investors’ money into the controversial financier’s ventures.

The proposal, which was first made in 2019, months before the Financial Times exposed the scale of H2O’s exposure to Windhorst, underscores the close relationship that blossomed between the German financier and H2O’s chief executive Bruno Crastes.

France’s financial regulator last month recommended banning Crastes from the investment industry for a decade, fining him €15mn and levying a record €75mn fine against H2O for what it described as “grave” rule breaches related to the firm’s extensive investments in illiquid bonds tied to Windhorst.

In early 2019, Windhorst invited the H2O chief’s wife, Laurence Crastes, to head a planned flagship store in Monaco, according to five people familiar with the arrangement. Mrs Crastes subsequently visited La Perla’s headquarters in the Italian city of Bologna, and researched several suitable locations for the proposed new shop and shared her findings with La Perla.

Mrs Crastes, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, was not remunerated by La Perla for her efforts and did not end up taking an official position at the company, according to two of the people. Plans to open La Perla’s Monaco store were ultimately shelved.

Months after Windhorst made his offer, H2O was plunged into crisis when the FT revealed that it held more than €1bn of illiquid bonds linked to the German, who has presided over several bankruptcies and previously received a suspended prison sentence in his home country.

French regulators last month disclosed that H2O’s chief investment officer, Vincent Chailley, also raised concerns about the firm’s exposure to Windhorst’s business in the summer of 2018.

A spokesman for Windhorst said “he did not offer any role or job or anything to Mrs Crastes”. H2O, Crastes and La Perla declined to comment.

Windhorst’s investment company, Tennor, acquired the heavily indebted La Perla for €1 in 2018 from Silvio Scaglia, an Italian entrepreneur who had previously sued the German financier for allegedly failing to settle bond trades. The case was settled out of court.

H2O that year bought more than €300mn of the €500mn bonds that Windhorst raised against the heavily lossmaking business. La Perla then listed its shares on France’s junior stock market Euronext Growth in September 2019, through a direct listing where no shares were sold to outside investors, disclosing that H2O also owned a 9.5 per cent stake in the company.

La Perla’s shares and bonds are among the assets in “side pockets” H2O established over two years ago to isolate €1.6bn of its hard-to-sell investments linked to Windhorst. Recent filings show that H2O has marked down the value of its La Perla bonds to less than 7 cents on the euro.

La Perla has yet to publish its audited annual report for 2021, previously blaming the delay on “Covid-19-related exceptional circumstances in Asia”. The company last week announced that its results for the first half of 2022 would also be delayed, attributing the hold-up to the company being in the later stages of a “restructuring and reorganisation process”.

Despite the continued absence of published financial statements, La Perla’s thinly traded shares have soared more than 70 per cent since September, giving the company a market capitalisation of €746mn. The price spike has been accompanied by a surge in volume: while on many days this year only one La Perla share has changed hands, more than 2,000 shares traded a day at some points in November.

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