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Trafigura lent nickel receipts to uninvolved firms, Gupta says in court document

FILE PHOTO: Chairman of UD Group Prateek Gupta poses in his Singapore office

By Pratima Desai and Eric Onstad

LONDON (Reuters) -Commodity trader Trafigura used shipping receipts from nickel trades to boost profits by lending them to companies not involved in the transaction to raise financing, Indian businessman Prateek Gupta alleged in a court document.

Swiss-based Trafigura filed a lawsuit against Gupta in February, alleging systematic fraud involving nickel cargoes by seven companies or corporate defendants that Gupta controlled.

Gupta on Tuesday asked a London court to lift a worldwide freezing order on his personal and business assets because Trafigura had failed to disclose full information.

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In a court document made public at the hearing, Gupta produced WhatsApp exchanges and emails with Trafigura staff that he alleges are proof that he was not alone in the operation to switch high- and low-value metals.

Gupta also alleged that Trafigura used a shipping receipt or bill of lading for "arbitrage trading" and in at least one case Trafigura "sold the bill of lading to two parties, one being the relevant corporate defendant and the other being a separate third party".

Trafigura declined to comment.

Gupta said while he discovered one instance of selling a bill of lading to two parties, he believed it was a wider activity by the commodity trader.

"I consider this is one of the reasons why Trafigura wished to enter into the arrangement in the first place," Gupta said, referring to his allegation that Trafigura devised the scheme to substitute low-value metals for pure nickel.

Typically three original bills of lading are issued for metal cargo. One for the shipper, one for the seller and one for the bank that finances the cargo and ultimate owner.

"Some forms of arbitrage trading are legitimate," Gupta said in the document.

He added that arbitrage trading can also describe trading bills of lading to inflate account books despite no real trades, or to inflate earning margins by lending bills of lading so third parties can raise finance through, for example, bill discounting.

Bill discounting typically involves a company selling invoices it is owed to a financing company at a discount to get the cash more quickly than the invoice period, which can sometimes be many months.

Gupta cited WhatsApp messages from a Trafigura employee saying a bill of lading "got erroneously used for arb deals".

"We became aware... that Trafigura was engaging in these practices because a third party to whom Trafigura loaned a bill of lading which had already been sold to one of the corporate defendants approached its bank for financing and that bank happened to be one of the banks utilised by UD Group with whom we had a good relationship."

UD Group is headquartered in United Arab Emirates.

(Reporting by Pratima Desai and Eric Onstad; editing by Veronica Brown and Josie Kao)