Divorce battle emerges over VinaCapital shareholdings

VinaCapital chairman Horst Geicke and his wife, Katherine Yip-Geicke, are locked in a dispute over the ownership of the Vietnam-based fund management company.

Divorce proceedings between Horst Geicke, chairman and co-founder of Vietnamese asset management firm VinaCapital Group, and his wife have come to involve ownership of company assets.

The dispute came to light when Katherine Yip-Geicke represented herself to AsianInvestor recently as a co-founder of and adviser to VinaCapital, Vietnam’s biggest fund manager with $1.8 billion of assets under management.

These titles are disputed by Horst Geicke, who says the company was founded by himself, Don Lam and Chris Gradel in 2003.

Lam, VinaCapital’s chief executive, had accompanied Yip-Geicke in giving a joint interview to AsianInvestor on October 25. During the meeting, Lam did not contradict her when she represented herself as adviser to and co-founder of the company.

Subsequently asked by AsianInvestor to explain the discrepancy, Lam declined to comment apart from to say: “This is a personal dispute; it does not involve me or the management of VinaCapital and should be settled in a divorce court.”

Public relations company Edelman had initially proposed the interview in an email to AsianInvestor on October 13 as being with “Don Lam, CEO and founding partner, and Katherine Yip-Geicke, founding partner of VinaCapital”.

According to company documentation, Yip-Geicke is not on the board of directors. However, she argues in legal correspondence, dated November 25, that she was “fundamental to the founding of the company” and that “in this context that ‘founder’ per se has no strict legal definition”.

She also alleges that Horst Geicke “is acting in an arbitrary and erratic manner as regards the affairs of the company which risks damaging shareholder value”.

Yip-Geicke accepts that she is not a registered shareholder in the company. However, she holds a 75% beneficial interest in Horst Geicke’s shareholding of VinaCapital. Horst Geicke is the largest shareholder, with a holding of "less than 45%", according to a VinaCapital spokesman, who declined to give a more specific figure.

According to a letter drafted by Yip-Geicke’s lawyers, Horst Geicke has sought to deny Yip-Geicke’s said interest in the firm and suggested that she should be excluded from all board or management decisions.

Edelman has since ceased acting for Yip-Geicke and told AsianInvestor in an email on November 24: “It has been brought to our attention that the descriptor provided to you of Katherine Yip-Geicke as the ‘co-founder of VinaCapital’ or ‘adviser to the board’ of VinaCapital may be incorrect. Please do not use this descriptor in future. The correct descriptor for Ms Yip-Geicke is ‘leading businesswoman and entrepreneur’.”

In a letter to AsianInvestor dated December 10, Horst Geicke and Don Lam make a formal statement in which they assert the personal nature of the situation.

"The issues you write about are predominantly concerned with an ongoing divorce," says the statement. "This is a personal matter and these issues do not have any bearing on the professional working relationships of VinaCapital's senior management team nor do they in any way affect the smooth running of VinaCapital at the present or in the future.

"Over the seven years since we formed VinaCapital, we have had a strong working relationship and share a vision of how to grow VinaCapital in the future," add Geicke and Lam. "We are pleased with how VinaCapital has weathered the global economic downturn, and we are very optimistic about the company's future prospects. The business track record under our stewardship is one that we are both immensely proud of.

"Our sole focus is on growing the business," they add, "and delivering results for our shareholders and investors."

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