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Toni Kukoc lawsuit alleges $11 million ‘looting’ by adviser and banker

Toni Kukoc Hall of Fame
Matt Marton
/
Associated Press
Toni Kukoc greets fans as he is honored for being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame during half-time of a Chicago Bulls game in late October 2021

The former NBA star says the alleged fraud against him included $7.5 million for a Swiss hotel.

Former Chicago Bulls star Toni Kukoc is suing his former Swiss bank, accusing one of its bankers of working with Kukoc’s personal financial adviser to steal $11 million.

The three-time NBA champion filed suit in Cook County last week against EFG International, which merged with Banca Svizzera Italiana, or BSI. Kukoc alleges BSI began working with his financial adviser in 2004 to defraud him.The lawsuit contends EFG, a private banking group, assumed BSI’s liabilities when they merged in 2016.

Paolo Banfi worked as an independent financial adviser, separate from BSI. Banfi started working with Kukoc in 1991 and for more than a decade there didn’t seem to be any problems, according to Scott Hessell, one of Kukoc’s attorneys.

Hessell, a partner at Chicago law firm Sperling and Slater, said Paolo Zola entered the picture in 2004 and became Kukoc’s personal banker through BSI.

The lawsuit alleges financial adviser Banfi and personal banker Zola worked together to “loot” Kukoc’s accounts. There were protocols in place to ensure Kukoc approved all transactions, but they weren’t followed.

Banfi and Zola are not named as defendants.

The lawsuit alleges Kukoc’s signature was forged on mortgage documents for a hotel project in Madulain, Switzerland.

“The mortgage documents purport to show that Kukoc signed some of the mortgage documents in Lugano, Switzerland, in December 2006,” according to the lawsuit. “However, Kukoc was not in Lugano, Switzerland, at this time, and never signed the documents.”

The lawsuit states “either Banfi, Zola, or someone acting under their direction forged Kukoc’s signature.”

There was another instance in 2007 in Chicago where Kukoc needed to sign documents with a banker present, per protocols, but the lawsuit says “BSI, through Zola, misrepresented that BSI was in Kukoc’s presence in Chicago, Illinois, when Kukoc signed those BSI banking documents in January 2007.”

“Zola and Kukoc never actually met in person in Chicago for any reason, much less for Kukoc to sign mortgage documents,” the lawsuit says.

The hotel mortgage accounted for roughly $7.5 million of the $11 million plus Kukoc is seeking and led to one of the allegations in the lawsuit: aiding and abetting fraud.

The other allegations include aiding and abetting civil theft, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. Banfi and Zola are accused of authorizing as many as 300 other smaller transactions between 2004 and 2007 which, with the mortgage, added up to $11 million.

Kukoc is asking the court to award him $11 million plus interest, court costs and “such other and further relief as this Court deems just and equitable,” according to the lawsuit. He wants a jury trial.

Hessell said the suit was filed in Cook County because Kukoc lives in Illinois and some of the behavior alleged in the suit occurred in Chicago.

The lawsuit states that Kukoc has been trying to address the issue in Switzerland with no success. He'd been filing requests for debt enforcement proceedings since January 2014, and his last request was in December 2021.

In 2020, a state attorney in Lugano declined to criminally charge Zola, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states, “Swiss banks have a longstanding history of a cozy relationship with Swiss courts, legislators, and policymakers. This makes Kukoc’s prospects for justice in Switzerland against a Swiss bank tenuous, even if Kukoc had the resources to pursue his claims in Switzerland.”

Kukoc had a different personal banker through BSI until 2003, and he is not accused of wrongdoing.

EFG, in a statement to WBEZ, said “we do not comment on the matter.”

Kukoc’s lawyers wouldn’t make him available for comment, citing the pending litigation.

Alex Degman covers Illinois state government for WBEZ. Follow him @Alex_Degman 

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government and Politics desk, follow him @dmihalopoulos

Alex Degman is a Statehouse reporter with WBEZ.