By Nell Mackenzie, Kirstin Ridley, Maiya Keidan and Carolina Mandl
LONDON/TORONTO (Reuters) -Odey Asset Management's prime brokers, including Goldman Sachs , JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, are reviewing their relationships with the hedge fund after allegations of sexual misconduct by its founder were reported by the Financial Times and Tortoise Media on Thursday, sources familiar with the matter said.
The FT and Tortoise, in a joint investigation, reported that 13 women alleged founder and owner Crispin Odey, one of Britain's best-known hedge fund managers, had sexually assaulted or harassed them over a 25-year period.
"This is a rehash of an old article and none of the allegations have been stood up in a courtroom or an investigation," Crispin Odey told Reuters by phone.
Odey was cleared of indecent assault charges by a British court in 2021. British regulator the Financial Conduct Authority has been investigating Odey since 2021, a source familiar with the situation said.
An FCA spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on individuals or specific firms. However, we take allegations of non-financial misconduct seriously and expect firms to have adequate governance procedures in place that ensure allegations of misconduct are properly investigated.”
A source at one of the prime brokers said the allegations of misconduct at Odey Asset Management conflicted with their standards.
Prime brokers lend hedge funds the money they need to facilitate investments.
The FT was the first to report news of Morgan Stanley's decision, which a source confirmed to Reuters independently. Another source familiar with the matter told Reuters that JPMorgan was also reviewing its relationship with Odey Asset Management, while a third source said Goldman Sachs was doing the same.
Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs all declined to comment. UBS, which also appears as a prime broker to Odey Asset Management on regulatory filings, declined to comment.
Crispin Odey denied that the prime brokers were reconsidering their relationships with his firm.
"Prime brokers are not pulling out! Understand something about the regulator! The duty of care! They can't. They can only do this if the company is no longer regulated, we're regulated."
Odey did not, however, respond when asked what the prime brokers had told him on Thursday.
In another exchange with Reuters, Odey said that "not a single investor" has approached him to withdraw money since the Financial Times and Tortoise Media published the allegations of sexual misconduct.
Odey, who was a leading backer of Brexit, came to prominence during the 2008 financial crisis when he made a fortune short-selling banking shares, an investment practice that involves betting on a decline in the price of a stock.
Odey Asset Management oversaw about 4 billion pounds ($5 billion) in assets, Reuters reported in September 2022.
Odey Asset Management is known for volatile performance. Odey European fund is down roughly 4% this year through the end of April, after it returned 151.46% in 2022, according to a note to clients from Societe Generale.
"If primes pull back, most firms would have to sell securities to pay back the 'loans,'" said George Evans, president of Convergence, a data and analytics firm that follows the alternative asset management industry. "Returns in a situation like this will potentially be impacted."
Evans called prime brokers the "lifeblood" of a hedge fund.
Asked about the impact on its business if prime brokers did leave, Crispin Odey told Reuters said that in addition to his position that prime brokers have a duty of care to the funds' investors, they are not allowed to change a fund's margin requirements to get access to leverage. Usually, if prime brokers realize that the risk of a fund increases or a client is no longer as attractive, they may raise collateral requirements, a prime broker who is not involved with Odey's fund said.
Britain's FCA determines that financial firms have a consumer duty to retail investors. It says firms should put consumers "at the heart of their business and focus on delivering good outcomes for customers." Its guidance, however, does not detail what would be the role of a prime broker specifically.
Duncan Lamont, a consultant at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, which represents Odey Asset Management, did not respond to repeated calls and emails asking for comment.
(Reporting by Nell Mackenzie, Kristin Ridley and Maiya Kendan; Additional reporting by Naomi Rovnick and Carolina Mandl; Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi, Dhara Ranasinghe, Megan Davies, Catherine Evans, Sharon Singleton and Leslie Adler)